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Not a season to remember for Wake Forest

March 8, 2012 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments
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ATLANTA – Although it wasn’t quite as bad as last season, this was hardly one for the books for Wake Forest. After an 82-60 blowout loss against Maryland on Thursday, the Demon Deacons finished 13-18 overall. That doesn’t seem so bad, and a few teams had worse records, but look deeper and you see a team that, quite simply, was not good.

Wake Forest, which has now lost six straight ACC Tournament games, was one of four teams that finished 4-12 in the ACC and tied for last place. Because of tie-breakers, the Demon Deacons snagged the No. 9 seed. They beat Boston College twice and Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech once each. All three of those teams also finished 4-12, so Wake Forest didn’t manage to knock off a team ahead of them in the standings all season. They also went 3-8 in true road games and 1-3 at neutral sites, so they didn’t fare well away from Joel Coliseum.

Remember, this is a program that canned Dino Gaudio after consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, one of which included a first-round win. They also wanted more success in the ACC Tournament, among other things, but their slide in that event has continued. Jeff Bzdelik, a good friend of athletic director Ron Wellman, hasn’t exactly taken them to the next level since taking over, and while Bzdelik isn’t responsible for the entirety of why that is the case, he certainly owns a fair amount of it. The Demon Deacons are 21-42 the past two seasons, and they aren’t likely to be much better next year even though a few top players return.

On a couple of occasions, Bzdelik spoke of “stuff that has happened,” alluding to various off-court problems that have depleted the roster since he took over. That certainly hasn’t helped him to this point, and it’s tough to pin all of the responsibility on him since he’s not the father of any of the young men who have gotten in trouble. It has helped make a bad situation worse.

The Demon Deacons are capable of getting offense from the perimeter, but that’s about it, and that was a big problem this season. C.J. Harris and Travis McKie are capable scorers, and when Chase Fischer is knocking down jumpers, they can be tough to stop on the perimeter. But Fischer isn’t a lights-out shooter, and he shot below 31 percent from long range in ACC play. Tony Chenault, the other primary perimeter player, didn’t shoot well, either, though that wasn’t his first job as the point guard.

But Ty Walker, who was suspended before the tournament, was never a big post scorer, and Carson Desrosiers spent a lot of time in high school playing away from the basket despite his size, so playing inside on offense is somewhat new to him. Nikita Mescheriakov fouled out with over seven minutes left on Thursday, though he had a good in his final game with 16 points on 6-10 shooting and four assists. He also departs, meaning the Demon Deacons have to find some new bodies up front alongside Desrosiers next season.

“We need to be able to score down there consistently,” said Bzdelik. “We need to be able to defend down there.”

Maryland had a 39-24 edge on the glass and a 44-28 edge in points in the paint. Bzdelik noted that size was a key in their recruiting, and the six-man group has four players who are 6’8″ or taller, although a couple don’t have very college-ready bodies. Growing pains are to be expected with freshmen, though, and that’s one reason why next year’s team may not be much, if any, better.

The lack of depth has put a great deal of pressure on Harris and McKie. They are two players the Demon Deacons can hang their hats on, but they need more. The lack of depth was apparent all year long, as a lot of teams got an assist from bench scoring in beating Wake Forest. Thursday was no exception, as Maryland had a 15-6 edge in bench scoring and had slight edges in rebounds and assists from reserves. McKie and Harris are solid players, with McKie being a competitor who will play bigger and can score in several ways, but players will have off nights, and the Demon Deacons will have no chance if one of them has such a game.

“People wear on us,” said Bzdelik. “We are just looking forward to next year, when we have six new bodies coming in and that gives us the depth that is going to help us tremendously.”

This year’s Wake Forest team was better than last year’s, but that isn’t saying much. It was still a team that went 13-18 and was probably worse than the record would imply, and the pace of improvement may not be very good. It’s certainly not what they wanted when they made the last coaching change.

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