Since defeating top-seeded Villanova in the 2015 round of 32 (thereby making a certain Wildcat piccolo player weep), NC State has compiled a 31-35 record. That, not surprisingly, was judged insufficient by the powers that be in Raleigh, and coach Mark Gottfried was let go after six seasons.
Now former UNC Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts is in charge. Keatts apprenticed as an assistant under Rick Pitino at Louisville, and the 44-year-old then led the Seahawks to a 54-14 record over the last two seasons. UNCW played a relatively fast tempo and forced opponents to commit a high number of turnovers.
Can the Wolfpack play that same kind of style? Certainly, but first Keatts needs players -- or at least he needs to know which players he'll have.
For example, NC State's waiting to see whether it will have the services of Ted Kapita and/or Omer Yurtseven. Both players were freshmen last season, and both have put their names in for the NBA draft without hiring agents.
Kapita averaged just 13 minutes a game coming off the bench in 2016-17, but his 14-point, 10-rebound effort (in just 19 minutes) in NC State's memorable win at Duke left many observers thinking there could be more here than meets the stat sheet. Meanwhile, Yurtseven was widely expected to be a one-and-done prospect a year ago. He could remain in the draft, of course, but if he plays as a sophomore the 7-footer will at least give the Wolfpack good size in the post as well as an occasional blocked shot.
Speaking of wait-and-see, the program has applied for a sixth year of eligibility for Terry Henderson. The 6-foot-5 guard missed virtually the entirety of 2015-16 with an ankle injury after transferring to Raleigh from West Virginia. If he returns, he'll give his new head coach a seasoned veteran who can score from either side of the line.
So much for the unknown. Here are the knowns, relatively speaking: Abdul-Malik Abu and Torin Dorn will, apparently, be back. Abu is a three-year starter who at 6-8 showed a good deal of promise on the offensive glass in his first two seasons. Dorn is a 6-5 guard who started strong last season after transferring from Charlotte but then made just seven 3s in 18 regular-season ACC games. Lennard Freeman also returns after redshirting last season due to injury.
In addition to Abu, Dorn and Freeman, Markell Johnson will be back for the Wolfpack. Johnson could inherit the role of point guard from the now-departed Dennis Smith, or perhaps the sophomore will share that assignment with incoming freshman Lavar Batts. The 6-2 in-state prospect committed to NC State just days after Keatts took the helm.
Lastly, Baylor transfer Al Freeman will be eligible next season as a graduate transfer. In his junior season Freeman lost his starting role in February, but a career 37-percent 3-point shooter who draws fouls and converts 83 percent of his free throws could be just what a rookie head coach needs in the tough ACC.
Not that scoring alone will solve every NC State problem. In each of the past two seasons, the team has suffered from a chronic lack of defense. In 2016-17, ACC opponents scored a whopping 1.18 points per possession against this defense, easily the highest such number in the league. Opposing offenses made no less than 43 percent of their 3s against NC State in ACC play, so don't be surprised to see the Wolfpack defense make a big improvement in that department thanks mostly to a regression toward normalcy.
Keatts arrives in Raleigh with a reputation for defense, and he'll have every opportunity to show it's justified. Moreover, the cupboard certainly isn't bare -- if nothing else there's more experience here than what Josh Pastner had in his first season at Georgia Tech -- and a big improvement on last season's 4-14 ACC finish looks like an entirely feasible objective. The Keatts era has begun.