Louisville and North Carolina State are both desperate for an Atlantic Coast Conference victory going into Thursday night’s meeting in Raleigh, N.C.
That’s pretty much where the similarities end.
NC State has picked up enough confidence-building moments across the nonconference portion of its schedule that should be reason for encouragement. Louisville’s mess of a season appears far from sorted out.
NC State (10-3, 0-2 ACC) has shown signs of growth. The team’s losses came to Kansas and Miami — both teams currently nationally ranked — along with a home setback to Pittsburgh. The Wolfpack can’t afford another home defeat in conference play prior to Christmas.
Louisville (2-10, 0-2) won two in a row before Tuesday night’s 75-67 home loss to Lipscomb.
“We just couldn’t mentally get it,” Cardinals coach Kenny Payne said. “We couldn’t mentally play with the energy that we needed to fight for a win.”
Payne is in his first season as coach. Yet this shapes up as a key game for NC State’s Kevin Keatts, whose team has come up short in past seasons in games it needed to win in order to stay on a positive path.
The Wolfpack recently have benefited from increased production from D.J. Burns (8.8 points, 4.6 rebounds per game), who has provided a nice post presence.
“I’ve been tough on him, and the reason I’ve been tough on him is because I know he can be a really good basketball player,” Keatts said. “We know he can score the basketball.”
The Wolfpack counts on getting boosts from full-court pressure. Keatts has switched up those combinations at times between zone and man-to-man in hopes of keeping opponents out of sync.
Louisville is the lowest-scoring ACC team thus far at 61.2 points per game. NC State holds the league’s best turnover margin (plus-3.3 turnover differential per contest) and the Cardinals have the worst (minus-3.8 per game) among conference teams.
Keatts, who picked up his 100th win with the Wolfpack on Saturday in a neutral-court victory against Vanderbilt, is a former Louisville assistant coach.
Louisville needs to regenerate the positive vibes that had started to surface earlier this month.
“We really wanted this win (against Lipscomb) really bad so we could feel a lot better going into those next two games,” Cardinals forward JJ Traynor said. “NC State is a really good team. We just have to keep working and keep fighting, and things will turn around.”
–Field Level Media