ACC Burning Questions: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Posted by Matt Patton on November 2nd, 2017

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

Burning Question: Can Danny Manning avoid a speed bump as the team relies more on its backcourt?

Wake Forest caught a lot of people off guard last season. Sure, head coach Danny Manning was a popular rising star in both the media and blogosphere, but most experts felt like the Demon Deacons were still a year or two away from a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, super sophomore John Collins morphed into arguably the most productive player in the ACC (earning himself a spot in the NBA First Round over the summer), and Wake Forest eked itself into the First Four of the Big Dance. In year four of the Manning era, he faces a bigger challenge. In addition to losing the all-ACC First Teamer Collins, Wake also lost starting power forward Dinos Mitoglou to the European pros.

Bryant Crawford has big shoes to fill with John Collins gone. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

That means this year’s team will rely heavily on its backcourt — especially juniors Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods — for success. Seven-foot junior Doral Moore will be joined by graduate transfer Terrance Thompson in the frontcourt, but neither has the talent of Collins. Moore was a turnover machine last year (26.9% TO rate), and while Collins made a massive leap in usage and efficiency between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was a much more efficient player to begin with. The Deacs’ general lack of depth in the frontcourt, along with the arrival of consensus top-50 wing Chaundee Brown, means there are likely to be a lot of three- and maybe even four-guard lineups in Winston-Salem this season.

Crawford, Woods and senior guard Mitchell Wilbekin were all solid last season (also probably elevated by the amount of attention Collins drew from opposing defenses), but they’ll need to become one of the best backcourts in the country to make the postseason again this year. Notwithstanding the frontcourt depth problem, Wake’s atrocious non-conference schedule may be its biggest hurdle to the postseason. The schedule is full of fluff. Only Tennessee looks like a bubble team and that game is at home. That should mean a lot of wins (hello, NIT!), but also numerous chances for bad losses and — even worse — zero opportunities for marquee victories. As Seth Greenberg will loudly attest, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has made a recent habit of punishing high-major conference teams for poor non-conference scheduling.

On the positive side, the ACC looks to have a lot of parity outside of the very top and bottom of the league. In conference play, the Demon Deacons will need to capitalize against some of the big boys. They only play Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Miami, Louisville and Virginia once each this season. That should mean a chance for a good conference record, but again, though, it puts a ton of pressure on Manning to earn at least a couple of wins in those six marquee games. At the end of the day, Wake Forest profiles like an NIT group. Next year’s team will have higher expectations with the addition of a very strong (and taller) freshman class, but it is within the realm of possibility that the Deacs gain enough confidence through December to once again outperform expectations. Just look at last year’s group if you need any convincing.

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