N.C. State Basketball: Win over Duke is career-defining for Kevin Keatts

N.C. State basketball coach Kevin Keatts has pulled off shocking upsets in the past, but Wednesday’s win over Duke could be career-defining.

Entering Wednesday night, N.C. State basketball hadn’t beaten a ranked team since taking down Auburn 14 months ago. The lack of a signature win plagued Kevin Keatts and company on Selection Sunday in 2019, and prior to beating No. 6 Duke this week, was without such a win this season as well. The win far from makes the Wolfpack an NCAA Tournament lock, but it undoubtedly gives their hopes a much-needed boost.

The Pack currently sits at fifth in the ACC standings, and apart from the loss to UNC, are without any horrible blemishes on their schedule. Aside from potential tournament implications, though, the victory of the Blue Devils may not only be a season-defining win for N.C. State, but it could also be a defining moment for Keatts and his career.

Prior to being hired by N.C. State, Keatts spent three seasons at UNC Wilmington after learning under Hall of Famer Rick Pitino.

After winning three-straight conference titles at UNCW, Kevin Keatts was one of the most underrated coaching hires in 2017. Keatts had a .794 win-percentage in his final two years with the Seahawks, taking his team to two-straight NCAA Tournaments, where he took Duke and Virginia to the wire in consecutive seasons. Before coaching at UNCW, Keatts spent three years as an assistant on Rick Pitino’s staff at Louisville, where he earned a reputation for being a superb recruiter.

Since being hired at N.C. State, Keatts has led the Wolfpack to a 62-33 record, including an NCAA Tournament berth in 2018. Despite being in Raleigh for not even three whole seasons, Keatts has already cracked the top 10 in career wins, and is sandwiched between legends Norm Sloan and Jim Valvano in win-percentage at the school. Only Everett Case and Mark Gottfried have more wins in their first three seasons. As good as the 47-year-old coach has been, the best is perhaps yet to come.

Despite having big wins in the past, the blowout victory over the Blue Devils is undoubtedly the best of Keatts’ career.

During his now almost three seasons with the Wolfpack, Keatts has racked up several wins over highly-ranked opponents. In his first season at the helm, Keatts led N.C. State to wins over five ranked teams, including Arizona, Duke, and UNC. Each of those three teams were ranked inside the top 10 at the time of defeat, as Duke and Arizona were both the second-ranked team in the country. While the victories were certainly momentous in the moment, they came as a surprise and the glory of those triumphs has since worn off. Wednesday’s win over Duke, though, has the potential to define the program for years to come.

Unlike with UNC, the Wolfpack have shown a propensity for beating Duke as of late. State has won three of the last four meetings, and has won each of the past two meetings in Raleigh. Despite the recent wins over the rival Blue Devils, this one was different. Contrary to typical N.C. State form the Pack was able to build a big lead early and keep its foot on the gas. From half-court buzzer beaters to foul calls to extinguishing opponent runs, everything seemed to go right for the team in red and white.

In three career matchups with the Blue Devils, Keatts has now beaten them twice, and was undoubtedly the better coach this time around. The first was an 11-point victory that essentially sealed N.C. State’s tournament bid in 2018. This most recent one, though, was one of historical magnitude. Wednesday’s 22-point Wolfpack victory marked the largest Duke loss to an unranked team during Coach K’s tenure, and was also Duke’s worst as a top-10 team in over 40 years. No matter how you look at it, State’s most recent victory is one that won’t soon be forgotten. As a result, it could define not only the program for this season or seasons to follow, but also Keatts’ career as a whole.