Wake Forest Still Looking For Its Signature Win

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 1st, 2017

A couple of Saturdays ago at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Wake Forest gave Duke all it could handle before eventually falling by five points in an exciting ACC shootout. The Demon Deacons followed that disappointment up with a comeback home victory over Pittsburgh, which improved their record to 16-12 overall and 7-9 in the ACC. Going into tonight’s home game against Louisville, Danny Manning‘s third team in Winston-Salem sits among Jerry Palm’s First Four In and Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out. The Deacs pass the eye test with an emerging star in sophomore big man John Collins and a host of additional young players playing beyond their years, but their resume still contains one glaring vacancy that a win over the Cardinals would undoubtedly resolve. With a dismal mark of 0-8 against the RPI top 25, Wake Forest’s best win came over Miami (FL) in mid-January and there are few remaining opportunities to notch an attention-grabbing signature win.

Wake Forest’s John Collins has emerged as the ACC’s best big man. (Brian Westeholt/Wake Sports)

For a program that has not sniffed meaningful postseason basketball since 2010, Manning acutely diagnosed his team’s mental hurdle after the loss at Duke: “We have to continue. We have to find a way. There are no close victories. There are no close feel-goods. There’s none of that. We have to find a way to get it done for the rest of our conference games.” If Wake Forest is to find that elusive quality win tonight against Louisville, it will assuredly be on the merits of an offense that ranks 11th nationally, per KenPom. The Demon Deacons’ defense (131st nationally) is still a work in progress, but with Collins quickly proving to be the ACC’s most talented big man and a number of capable shooters spotting up around him, a defense that bends but doesn’t break may be all they need.

Collins in particular is a case study in player development. After a modest but promising freshman campaign where he averaged 7.3 PPG and 3.9 RPG, the 6’10” center has rocketed to star status (and climbing) this season. He has now scored more than 20 points in 11 consecutive games, the longest such streak at Wake Forest since Skip Brown accomplished the feat way back in 1974-75. Collins’ offensive efficiency has been very good as well, leading the nation with an offensive rating of 122.3 among high-usage players. For Manning’s program, the only negative thing about Collins’ dramatic rise is that this is likely to be his final collegiate season in Winston-Salem. NBA scouts have increasingly taken notice of both Collins’ outstanding productivity as well as his evident future at the next level. At only 19 years of age with a developing body (220 pounds), his room for growth in both his skill set and physically is immense. It’s no surprise that Collins is regularly showing up on projected NBA Draft boards as a solid mid-first round pick.

While losing Collins would be a significant blow for Manning’s team next year, it might not necessarily prove crippling. Other promising young big men on the roster include sophomore Doral Moore and freshman Sam Japhet-Mathias in addition to a strong nucleus of guards led by sophomores Bryant Crawford, Keyshawn Woods and freshman Brandon Childress. The head coach certainly hopes that another year of experience will result in significant defensive improvement on the perimeter. Incoming four-star recruit Chaundee Brown should also help in that effort, as he should be an athletic upgrade on the wing over current graduate transfer Austin Arians. With only two juniors on the roster who see significant time, Manning may be in good position to build on this year’s middling success, but a harsh reality remains. After several near-misses, he still must prove that he can lead the Deacons to victory against the ACC’s elite, beginning this evening.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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