ACC Team Previews: Wake Forest Demon DeaconsPosted by ARowe on October 22nd, 2012
Throughout the preseason, the ACC microsite will release a preview for each of the 12 teams. Today’s victim: the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest basketball took a step back last season under third-year coach Jeff Bzdelik. While Wake was on top of the basketball world in January 2009 (undefeated and ranked #1), the Demon Deacons’ program has fallen on hard times ever since. From October 2010 to April 2012, Tony Woods, J.T. Terrell, Ty Walker, Ari Stewart, Carson Desrosiers, Anthony Fields, Tony Chennault and Melvin Tabb all left the school, either by choice or by force. As a result, the Deacs have won only five ACC games since March 7, 2010. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a phrase that comes to mind.
Bzdelik certainly has his detractors. And his record since arriving in Winston-Salem speaks for itself. When a program has as rich of a basketball history (at least over the last three decades) as Wake Forest does, losing records and mass exoduses of players over a two-year period will not be tolerated very long at all. Although athletic director Ron Wellman has put his support thoroughly behind Bzdelik at some point he has to look out for his own job. Fortunately for both of them, help is on the way.
“Baby Deacs” is the name of the freshman class entering Winston-Salem this year to try and turn this program around. Madison Jones, Tyler Cavanaugh, Aaron Rountree, Codi Miller-McIntyre, Arnaud William Adala Moto, Devin Thomas and Andre Washington make up the seven freshmen expected to get Wake Forest basketball back to their winning ways. The class was ranked #21 in the country by ESPN and #23 by Scout.com.
Judging by the video, these youngsters have gone a long way toward building their team off the court, but whether that cohesion plays itself out on the court remains to be seen. Knowing the importance of this freshman class on the future of the Wake Forest program, one of the most successful Demon Deacons in recent history, Wake Forest great Randolph Childress, was named Director of Player Development in late April. Childress knows what it takes to be successful in the ACC, as he was an All-American in 1994 and 1995 and was picked as the ACC Tournament MVP in 1995.
Of the youngsters, Miller-McIntyre is expected to make the greatest impact this early in his career. He will start at point guard with fellow freshman Madison Jones backing him up. With senior CJ Harris and junior Travis Mckie rounding out the shooting guard and forward positions, three other freshmen will log heavy minutes in the post. Seven-footer Washington, 6’9″ Thomas and 6’9″ Cavanaugh should give the Deacs a physical presence they didn’t have last year. Unfortunately, Thomas injured his knee this fall and underwent minor surgery that will put him out four to six weeks.
Wake only has six scholarship players who have played college basketball before and only two of those players have averaged over seven points per game. Travis McKie and CJ Harris took 43% of the shots for Wake Forest last season. Not many teams in the ACC relied on two players like Wake Forest did on Travis McKie and CJ Harris. Here’s a look at duos from around the league last year:
Harris and McKie will be leaned on just as much this year as last, but not in the same ways. The two will now be moved into leadership positions, charged with helping this young team find their footing in Bzdelik’s system. However, with the additions of Miller-McIntyre and Jones at the point guard position, CJ Harris can now move to his more natural shooting guard spot. McKie is a “throwback player” according to Bzdelik and plays a 3/4 hybrid position. With more post players available on the roster this season, you’ll likely see McKie playing more on the perimeter. Sophomore Green and the freshman Moto started in Wake’s first preseason game on October 19 and they will presumably become mainstays with McKie, Harris and McIntyre unless some of the other freshmen are able to acclimate themselves quickly to the college game.
Potential Breakout Player
It’s hard to peg anyone other than McKie or Harris as someone who can break out on this roster, but since they basically did that already last year, I’ll have to go with one of the youngsters. Codi Miller-McIntyre really impressed me when I saw him play at the Dave Telep Carolina Challenge. With the opening at point guard, I really think he has a chance to shine in this offense. Having established scorers like Harris and McKie on the court with him should help his adjustment from high school to college.
The Deacons have actually already started their season, playing two recent exhibitions in Canada against Brock and Ryerson Universities on October 19 and 20. Bzdelik shrewdly scheduled these games to give his young team a head start on their season. They won their first matchup against Brock, 84-79, while their second game was won by a score of 88-80 over Ryerson.
Wake Forest will play in the Paradise Jam in the middle of November in the US Virgin Islands. Their first game against Connecticut will provide a glimpse into both programs’ rebuilding process. With UConn’s success much more recent but replacing a legend in Jim Calhoun, the Deacs may have a chance to make an early statement and establish some momentum. Their remaining games at the Paradise Jam will be against Iona/Quinnipiac and one of George Mason/Mercer/New Mexico/Illinois-Chicago. Winning even two of these four games would be huge for the young Deacs’ confidence. The rest of their non-conference slate is not too daunting, and should provide ample opportunity for Bzdelik to get his young guys some run before they open up ACC play on January 5 in Durham. As one of Duke’s primary partners in the ACC, they play the Blue Devils home and away this season. Their other primary partner is NC State which means they play four of their conference games against the top two ranked teams in the conference. They also play FSU twice, a team expected to be fourth in the league this year.
Prediction and Conclusion
Due to their relatively easy schedule and the fact that Bzdelik was allowed to work with his players more over the summer than he would have in past years, I think they will be more ready to play than a team so young normally would be. The two-day trip to Canada and an early tournament appearance at the Paradise Jam will help as well.
I have Wake improving on last year’s 4-12 conference record by moving to 6-12 in the ACC this year. I also see them improving on their 13-18 overall record from last season to 17-15 overall. I don’t think this young of a team is ready to pull off any big upsets in conference, so I have them losing non-conference contests against Connecticut, Xavier and UNC-Greensboro (young teams always lose games they’re not supposed to win.) Overall, Bzdelik will show he is improving the Wake Forest team, though, and may even get an invite to the NIT. I foresee one ACC Tournament win on Thursday in Greensboro, but that’s likely it for this year.