Photo by Steve Murphy/IPS
NC State Basketball

TRI-PARTISAN: Markell Johnson's Absence Negates Pack's Improved Lineup

November 7, 2019

Each week I submit a Tri-Partisan column to, and here is today's feature where I tell you why NC State's revamped lineup couldn't overcome the loss of critical pieces in the season opener. Markell Johnson's Absence Negates Pack's Improved Lineup

Given the direction NC State's football season has turned you can bet Wolfpack fans were glad to see the start of the hoops season arrive -- at least until probably an hour before Tuesday night's tip-off when word leaked out that star point guard Markell Johnson wouldn't be suiting up.

Uh oh.

Already without suspended center D.J. Funderburk, it was going to be a tough task for NC State to overcome the loss of Johnson, because this wasn’t your usual first-game (i.e., easy) opponent. Instead, the team opened against ACC foe Georgia Tech.

Yep, Georgia Tech.

Looking to showcase the new ACC Network, the league scheduled conference games (outside of Duke) to begin the year. Nearly every other season the Pack would open against a member of the Cupcakes Conference, where not having Johnson or Funderburk would be less of a problem. However, Georgia Tech cashed in on the opportunity to steal an ACC road win, defeating the Wolfpack 82-81 in overtime.

The good news is Johnson and Funderburk should be returning fairly soon, and adding those two back into the lineup will make this team extremely dangerous because of the roster constructed by Kevin Keatts.

The third-year head coach has a system in place for how he wants to play on both sides of the ball, and he identified two glaring weaknesses on his roster over the last two seasons. First of all, NC State has had no rim protection. Keatts wants his guards and wings to apply constant pressure on the basketball. By doing so it should run opponents off the three-point line and force turnovers. At the same time, though, that pressure also forces opponents to drive to the basket – a court location where State has not been able to really be effective defensively.

Redshirt freshman Manny Bates could be the solution. The 6-foot-11 center was disruptive all night against the Yellow Jackets. Bates blocked five shots and altered several others, and his activity level in the paint will be a major upgrade on the defensive end. Once Funderburk returns NC State will have a 1-2 punch at the five position that can compete with any duo in the conference.

The other weakness Keatts had to address was perimeter shooting at the four position, and he did that by bringing in Lehigh grad transfer Pat Andree. At 6-foot-8, Andree will be one of the best shooters in the ACC after shooting over 40 percent from three in back-to-back seasons for the Mountain Hawks. He hit three 3-pointers in the first eight minutes and was fouled shooting another, and pairing him with Jericole Hellems, who hit 2-of-5 3's as well, should make State much tougher to defend offensively. Click the link to read the rest of the story: LINK.

Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.