In preparation for tomorrow's big game, we talked with Riley Johnston of SB Nation's Wake Forest blog, Blogger So Dear. Make sure you check out my answers to their questions.
1. Wake Forest started with a pretty impressive out of conference performance. But in the ACC they're just 1-9. What happened?
I think a lot of things happened. Wake played very well early on in Maui and the OOC portion of the schedule, but they also got "lucky" in a sense to win those games. The Deacs started 8-0 in games decided by 6 points or less, and were for a long time the "luckiest" team in KenPom's rating system. The idea is that a team, regardless of talent, will win and lose about the same number of close games, and Wake Forest won an extremely high number of them early on (well all of them really). Since getting into conference play, not only is Wake Forest facing closer competition, but they are losing close games that they won early on in the season.
When you couple the fact that the Deacs have a young team with the fact that they are 1-9, it can cause a lot of "woe is me" mentality that can be hard to get out of. The return of Codi Miller-McIntyre has certainly stuck out as something that changed the team, perhaps for the worse. I don't mean to say that Codi is hurting the team, but the chemistry that was struck with freshman Bryant Crawford running the point has been changed to an extent, and that has had an effect on the game.
2. What does Wake need to do down the stretch for this season to be considered a success?
Coming into the season I thought the NIT was slightly out of reach, but would be a good goal. After big early season wins against Indiana, UCLA, @Bucknell, and a few others, the NCAA Tournament came into picture. I still didn't think we had a very good chance to get there, but since the freefall has began, most are quick to say that this season has been a compete failure. I think for it to be a a success Wake Forest needs to make the NIT, which would mean winning 6 to 7 out of the remaining 8 games on the schedule. Not very likely.
3. Every time I turn on a Wake game, freshman Bryan Crawford is doing something special. Plus Doral Moore and John Collins obviously have a big upside. With the underclassmen contributing like they are, how is the feeling about the trajectory of the program considering they'll be losing Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre?
I absolutely love Bryant Crawford's game. A lot have been quick to point out the high turnover numbers, but he is the starting point guard as a freshman in the ACC playing the nation's hardest schedule. He has exceeded all my expectations, and I think he is going to burst onto the national scene next year, much in a similar trajectory to former Wake Forest point guard Jeff Teague. Collins and Moore inside will form a considerable duo for years to come, and when you add in Dinos Mitoglou (sophomore), and another freshman big man in Samuel Japhet-Mathis, the front court is loaded moving forward.
There is no doubt that losing Devin and Codi will hurt. Devin is probably one of the most underrated players by Wake fans, ACC media, and national media in the country. He is already the fourth leading rebounder in Wake Forest history, and if he averages a double-double this year, will go down as one of the most prolific big men in Wake history. Codi Miller-McIntyre just hasn't been the same for Wake since he broke his foot in the off-season. He seems hesitant, tentative, and isn't finishing around the basket. I believe that next year will be better than this one, particularly in ACC play, but I think the NCAA Tournament is still two years away, which is extremely disappointing, as we are coming up on 7-8 years of not making the post-season at all.
4. Wake Forest turns the ball over a ton, and doesn't force many turnovers on defense. What's going on there?
To put it frankly, Wake just doesn't value the ball very well. I would say that it is a function of our up-tempo offense, but even tempo-free stats show that we don't protect it. Bryant Crawford has great court vision for a freshman (well really for anybody), but the game hasn't slowed down yet for him to make the pass that he needs to make on a consistent basis. He often tries to make the Home Run pass instead of the Single pass, and that hurts him a fair amount. Our big men are also fairly turnover prone, so that adds up quickly. In theory the Deacs should be better at forcing turnovers because they run almost exclusive man-to-man defense, and often times trap off the pick-and-roll. It has gotten better as the year has gone on, but a lack of length at a couple of positions, as well as just bad defense, spacing, pick-and-roll defense in general, doesn't put them in position very often for steals.
5. Alright, how about a prediction? Wake has only won one ACC game, but Pomeroy has the Noles as just 4-point favorites. How does this one play out?
Ummmm I knew you were going to ask this but I don't really have a good answer for you. I felt good headed into the Clemson game, especially after we were up 28-20 at the half, but obviously losing 56-34 in the second half doesn't go over very well. I'm guessing we do what we have been doing...come out slow, fall behind, surge back, take the lead at the half, and then have a bad second half to lose. I'll take the Noles 71-66.