RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Something is broken at N.C. State. What it is and how you fix it is no doubt causing restless nights for Kevin Keatts.
A short ride over in Chapel Hill, UNC's main problem during the Tar Heels' struggles was sitting on the bench with a knee injury. Easy to spot and affirm.
In Raleigh, the disconnect is more opaque.
Let's start with a timeline.
Losing to Georgia Tech back in November was dismissed on the account of not having D.J. Funderburk and Markell Johnson in the lineup. Fair enough. Then C.J. Bryce, leading the team in scoring and rebounding at the time, dealt with a concussion, causing him to miss losses against Clemson and Virginia Tech. Not to worry. Brighter days would be ahead with a healthy roster.
That's how it played out. With Bryce back, the Pack rattled off three wins, including their first at Virginia since 2005.
Then a major crack. Georgia Tech befuddled State in Atlanta.
A frustrated Keatts said after that loss, "I just thought when it came down to getting some key rebounds and key stops, we didn't get those."
Monday night, an even bigger cracked was revealed. Despite having the better roster and the home court advantage, State couldn't hang with a historically poor Carolina team and suffered another demoralizing home loss to their Tobacco Road rival.
Keatts called out his guys in the post game: "We've got to get tougher. I've got to figure out, some of my better basketball players aren't playing good basketball."
Yes and yes to all of that. Is Keatts to blame?
In his third season, Keatts has enjoyed a longer honeymoon than most. And for good reason. Keatts directed State to 45 wins in his first two years at the helm. The trajectory of his success had only risen since arriving on campus. Now they've hit a speed bump and Keatts and his staff are partially accountable.
Why isn't his team responding to what he's preaching? Against UNC, there was a lot of hero ball being played. Dribble, dribble shoot. A play drawn up for a crucial possession against Georgia Tech resulted in a turnover. But why did they run a handoff play when Johnson could have just kept the ball to begin with? The senior point guard is the only holdover from the previous regime so there's no excuse for not having "his guys" to play the desired high-pressure style.
And then there is the mystery of Bryce, who is 0-12 over his last two games and hasn't registered a point. He was arguably the Wolfpack's best player earlier when healthy. Well, they need him to regain form -- and fast.
With games against ranked Louisville, Duke, a good Syracuse team and a rematch in Chapel Hill all is not lost.
It's on Keatts and his staff to stop the bleeding. N.C. State is still regarded by most as an NCAA tournament-caliber team, but a few more games like these, and that bubble will burst.
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