ACC Team Previews: Wake ForestPosted by KCarpenter on October 18th, 2011
Wake Forest had a rough season this past year. No, wait, that’s not right. Bad? Terrible? Catastrophic? I’m having a hard time capturing the scale and scope of how bad last season was. The ideal word would capture a sort of hopeless, inevitable despondency mixed with mind-blowing, frustrating futility. Imagine a turtle trying to climb up a hill. Then the camera zooms out, and the turtle is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon trying to scale the side of a cliff. Now imagine that the turtle accidentally falls onto it’s back. Now imagine a mob gathering at the top of the cliff to push boulders down onto the turtle. That’s how last season felt in Winston-Salem.
Wake Forest had a single win in the Atlantic Coast Conference against lowly Virginia. Wake Forest won a single game away from its home court: a neutral court win against Elon at Greensboro Coliseum. Wake Forest stunned the world by losing the season opener against Stetson and then proceeded to lose to Winthrop, UNC Wilmington, and Presbyterian. They also lost to a number of very good basketball teams, but that kind of goes without saying when Stetson and Presbyterian are giving you the business on your floor. Ken Pomeroy’s basketball efficiency statistics demonstrate that this wasn’t just a few unlucky games. This was a systemic and utter, season-long failure. Every 16-seed in last year’s NCAA tournament was significantly better than Wake Forest. For the record, that group included UNC-Asheville, Boston University, Arkansas-Little Rock, and Texas-San Antonio. Last season, in short, was an unmitigated disaster. I hope we’re clear on that. That said, this summer may have been worse.
While Jeff Bzdelik had certainly counted on losing senior starter Gary Clark, it’s unlikely he had prepared for the other losses. Another starter, Ari Stewart, announced that he was transferring to USC. Melvin Tabb was hardly a major contributor to the Demon Deacons, but on a shrinking roster, it didn’t help that he was suspended and then released from the team after facing charges of breaking/entering and fraud. Another starter, freshman sensation J.T. Terrell, left school after he was charged with driving under the influence. Finally, 7’0″ senior Ty Walker was ruled ineligible to compete with the team throughout the duration of the fall semester due to a violation of Wake Forest’s honor code. All of this happened from the months of April to September. Ouch.
So let’s look at the silver lining: the incoming freshman class is solidly promising, if not star-studded. Chase Fischer and Anthony Fields promise to strengthen the backcourt rotation while Daniel Green offers some serious athleticism and significant size at 6’10”. None of this trio has been heralded as the next big Wake Forest star in the vein of Chris Paul or Tim Duncan, but all three are skilled basketball players and hopefully will improve a culture that obviously could do with some level of improvement. In terms of current player improvement, Travis McKie is key to the Demon Deacon plan. Last year’s leading scorer and ACC All-Freshman team selection, McKie will need to be the focal point of the offense, using his versatility to lead the team by example. On a similar note, McKie and junior point guard C. J. Harris need to work on their three-point shooting. While both shot the ball well enough in their freshman campaign, the team’s rash of departures has left the team largely devoid of outside shooting threats. If McKie and Harris can help stretch defenses, it will leave a lot more room for the Deacon offense to operate.
The big question mark for the Demon Deacons is post play. With Ty Walker currently suspended, Wake Forest will have to look to Carson Desrosiers to play heavy minutes down low. While transfer forward Nikita Mescheriakov and Daniel Green will hopefully be able to offer some quality minutes in the post, it seems like the bulk of the responsibility will fall to Desrosiers, a player who showed real promise as a first rate shot-blocker in his freshman campaign but has yet to showcase a complete offensive game. Still, a big leap forward for Desrosiers could mean a big leap forward for Wake Forest, and that’s something for Demon Deacon fans to get excited about.
Another thing for Wake Forest fans to get excited about? The dead cat bounce. There is a saying on Wall Street that even a dead cat, if thrown from a great height, will bounce. In short, things have fallen so hard for the Wake Forest program that some degree of improvement is all but inevitable. So, looking at Wake Forest’s schedule, I’d expect the combination of a better locker room atmosphere, contributions by newcomers, improvements by sophomores, and the dead cat bounce to equal at least a few more wins than last season. Outside of the Old Spice Classic, Wake’s non-conference schedule looks conspicuously weak, but a team that lost to UNC-Wilmington last season won’t take the Seahawks and their ilk for granted. The Demon Deacons should win these games, but they should have beaten Stetson and Presbyterian last year, so who knows? Wake will also benefit from a slightly easier ACC schedule. While they will have to play Duke twice, having only one home game apiece against North Carolina, Florida State, and Virginia Tech will certainly help the conference record. Similarly, two shots at fellow basement dwellers Georgia Tech and N.C. State gives Jeff Bzdelik’s team a shot at more victories.
Will this team be better than last year’s squad? Probably, but not by much. Will they win more games? I think so. I’d expect Wake Forest to win somewhere in the neighborhood of thirteen overall games, with about four of these wins coming during ACC play. That’s still a lousy record, but given last season, that’s the extent of my optimism. Still, that would amount to a massive improvement and it would be something for the program to build upon. The future might not be bright and sunny, but it least it’s not as dreary and near-apocalyptic as last season. That’s got to be worth something, right?