Together, N.C. State and Arizona have faced seven teams from the bottom levels of Division I basketball so far this season. But the time has come for tougher competition.
The two teams get that tougher competition on Wednesday, when they face each other in the Bahamas on the first day of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
N.C. State (4-0) owns one-sided wins over VMI, Charleston Southern, Bryant and Presbyterian. No. 2-ranked Arizona (3-0) has averaged 98.3 points per game while clobbering Northern Arizona, Maryland-Baltimore County and Cal State-Bakersfield.
The Wildcats are expected to contend for a national title this season. N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said Arizona is the nation’s best team even though Duke holds the nation’s No. 1 ranking.
“It gets a little more challenging,” Keatts said. “Certainly we get to play, in my opinion, the No. 1 team in the country on Wednesday, which is Arizona, which is a very good program.”
The Wolfpack has only trailed in the second half of one of its games this season – against Presbyterian last Thursday.
Happy with how the team has played so far, Keatts is pushing for a higher level of play.
“Play longer stretches of good,” Keatts said. “I feel like we play 25 minutes and have a lot of success. Every game I want to improve on it, get to 30 minutes then up to 35 minutes. I want us to play a complete game at some point.”
The game against Arizona, coached by former N.C. State assistant Sean Miller, would be a good time for that to happen. The Wolfpack has to deal with Arizona guard Allonzo Trier, a 6-5, 205-pound junior who has averaged 30 points over the season’s first three games. Deandre Ayton, a 7-1, 260-pound freshman forward, has averaged 18.7 points and 11.7 rebounds per game.
N.C. State needs its pressing defense to lock down Arizona. Wolfpack opponents are averaging 22.5 turnovers per game and Keatts said his players are meeting their goal of 40 deflections per game.
“I’m very pleased with the way we are playing on the defensive end,” Keatts said. “Obviously if you are a pressing team you want to be turning teams over.
Arizona has turned the ball over 37 times in its three games. The Wildcats coaching staff has four game videos to review of N.C. State’s press, but Keatts pointed out the Wolfpack has “three or four” different presses it can employ so the key is to find which one is effective for each opponent.
After playing Arizona on Wednesday, the Wolfpack will play Thursday and Friday in the tournament. Thursday’s game will be against either Southern Methodist or Northern Iowa.
NC State vs. Arizona
What: Battle 4 Atlantis
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Paradise Island, Bahamas