Newcomers, depth key for NC State in opener with Bucknell

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It's a depth-finding mission for the Wolfpack beginning Tuesday.

Putting as many players as possible in position to help the cause is among the missions early in the season for North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts.

Expect that approach to be evident when the season begins Tuesday night against visiting Bucknell in Raleigh, N.C.

"I have been preaching this and I've got 10 guys," Keatts said of potential depth that could surface. "I realize that we are still in a pandemic and hope that we can make it through that and no injuries. ... With this team we are going to have to have four or five guys, or even six guys in double-figures."

NC State played in the National Invitation Tournament last season after missing the NCAA Tournament. The Wolfpack had a 14-11 record.

The core of the team is expected to be the combination of forward Jericole Hellems and center Manny Bates. But newcomers are bound to be significant factors, with freshmen Terquavion Smith and Breon Pass potentially topping the list.

"As you know young guys try to determine if they're scoring the ball they play better," Keatts said. "They all have a chance to be good. We just have to figure out how to put them in the best position."

Keatts said Bates, who didn't play in an exhibition game against Elizabeth City State, would be on the floor for the Bucknell game.

Bucknell went 5-7 in a COVID-impacted season, playing only Patriot League opponents. The Bisons lost to eventual league champion Colgate in the conference tournament semifinals.

Gone is forward John Meeks, who averaged 25.3 points per game in six games but decided to transfer to College of Charleston for his extra season. Guard Andrew Funk, at 12.9 points per game, is the leading returning scorer and the only senior on the roster.

"This group has worked extremely hard and they hold each other accountable in a positive way," Bucknell coach Nathan Davis said. "We have the skill and talent to be successful, but it's really going to come down to how we handle adversity."

Point guard Xander Rice joins Funk as a returning starter.

This is the first of two games against Patriot League teams to open the season for NC State, which faces Colgate in its second game.

--Field Level Media