ACC Burning Questions: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Posted by Matt Patton on October 20th, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: What sort of “sophomore leap” can we expect from Bryant Crawford, John Collins, and Doral Moore?

Wake Forest is coming off an incredibly disappointing season. Despite having a pair of talented seniors in the lineup, the Demon Deacons managed only two league wins last year, causing fans to suffer flashbacks of the Jeff Bzdelik era. The 2015-16 team was better than its record, though, and that discrepancy largely falls on the shoulders of the team’s most talented (and now graduated) players: Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas. This year the Demon Deacons will lack their senior leadership but that may finally provide Danny Manning the distance he needs to fully reshape the basketball environment in Winston-Salem. First, I’m an admitted Manning apologist. His results have so far been inconsistent, but Bzdelik passed along a culture so toxic that no one could have reasonably expected a quick fix. This, however, is the year Manning must start to show real progress (with next year being the year to make a leap in the conference standings). The road will be tough and the win total may not reflect significant improvement, but Wake Forest needs to beat the worst teams in the league (here’s looking at you, Boston College and Georgia Tech), while playing competitively against the better teams (hey, Virginia).

John Collins is an analytics darling, but can he make the leap the statistics say? (Photo Credit: Bob Hebert)

John Collins is an analytics darling, but can he make the leap the statistics suggest? (Bob Hebert/Getty)

To replace Miller-McIntyre and Thomas, look no further than sophomores Bryant CrawfordJohn Collins and Doral Moore. Collins in particular carries the Luke Winn-endorsed high usage and efficiency hallmark of breakout sophomores, and Crawford effectively replaced Miller-McIntyre’s role for much of last season. How competitive Wake Forest will be, though, depends mostly on the team’s ceiling (the ACC is stacked) and I’ll be surprised if Crawford and Collins aren’t the keys to the Deacs’ highest performance. Crawford will need to cut down on his turnovers while Collins needs to prove efficient in increased minutes, but those are achievable goals. Moore, on the other hand, showed flashes of brilliance last season. You can’t teach tall, but Manning appears capable of coaching up his bigs. If that holds true, Moore could become a real star in the ACC by the time he’s done there. Joining the trio of star sophomores are graduate transfer Austin Arians from Milwaukee, who should provide some immediate help on the wing. Don’t look for Arians to become a volume scorer in Winston-Salem, but he can keep opponents honest with his shot and he never turns the ball over. It’s also possible we’ll see a quantum jump from Mitchell Wilbekin this season. His brother Scottie Wilbekin made a big step forward at Florida between his sophomore and junior years.

Konstantinos Mitoglou, along with consensus three-star freshmen Donovan Mitchell and Samuel Japhet-Mathias (neither should get many minutes this season) round out the rest of Manning’s frontcourt. This is where Wake Forest will need to rise to the challenge this season. If this team wants to achieve more than winning only two conference games (ahem, say, winning on the road), it’s going to be on the strength of its interior play. Although none were major contributors, Manning also needs to make up for four transfers with a large, talented freshman class. Unfortunately, the easiest calculus is wins and losses. With most of the league projected to punch tickets to the Big Dance, Danny Manning may not make much progress on that front. But the signs of a healthy program on the rise should be clear. Are players improving? Is the team’s competitiveness improving? And is there an obvious path to greater long term achievement? This is an important year in Winston-Salem.`

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