Wake Forest Primer

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Tony Bennett’s team eyes an important ACC home win against Wake Forest.

After falling just short in a 58-55 loss to Florida State in Tallahassee on Saturday, Virginia (18-4, 5-3 ACC) returns home on Wednesday to open the second half of ACC play against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. After playing a Seminoles squad that is in the penthouse of the conference standings, the Hoos will face a Wake team (11-12, 2-7 ACC) that is once again in the cellar after finishing last year with a 1-15 conference mark. Of course, that one win came at the expense of UVa. Can the Cavs reverse their fortunes from a year ago, or will they suffer from another case of Deacon Blues?

Let’s jump into the Wake Forest Primer.

1. Last year’s Wake Forest squad was the worst team from a Power 6 conference, stumbling to an RPI of No. 256, the No. 251 spot on KenPom, and the No. 261 position in TAPE. Gone from that team this year are J.T. Terell and Gary Clark . Terrell, who was second among Deacs in scoring last year and tallied 11 points against UVa, has transferred to USC after being dismissed following a DWI arrest. And Clark, who was third on last year’s team in scoring and chipped in 10 points against Virginia, is also gone. In their wake, the Deacs have shown some marginal improvement this year. They stand at No. 137 in RPI, No. 196 in KenPom, and No. 194 in TAPE. Wake’s conference wins have come at Boston College (71-56) and at home against the Hokies (58-55), but the team has dropped its last four ACC contests, including an 87-76 loss at NC State on Saturday.

2. Jeff Bzdelik is now in his second season in Winston Salem, following earlier gigs as the man in charge of the Denver Nuggets, Air Force, and Colorado as well as a longstanding friendship with Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman. For years, Bzdelik has been running a version of the Princeton offense that was initially installed by former Tiger player Joe Scott at Air Force. But after Wake finished No. 235 in adjusted offensive efficiency last year, Bzdelik decided to rearrange the deck chairs in the offseason and install an open-post motion offense. This offense often starts with the Deacs’ post players on the perimeter, thus opening the lane for screen and cuts. From The Coach’s Clipboard, here is the basic spacing and positioning of the open-post motion offense:

You can check out the rest of the article for plays that can be run out of it.

The goal of the offense is to create penetration, resulting in either fouls, finishes, or kick-outs. So far, the offense has had its greatest success in this first category as Wake is No. 30 in the country in adjusted free throw to field goal ratio. But the Deacs are only No. 164 in adjusted effective field goal percentage, and their adjusted offensive efficiency ranking of No. 195, while an improvement over last year, isn’t going to get the job done against most ACC teams. It certainly shouldn’t pass muster against the Pack-Line, which is designed to prevent the penetration that the open-post is designed to create. Of course, the Hoos gave up 76 points against a less efficient Wake offense last year in the team’s worst defensive performance in the lower 48 states during the Tony Bennett era. But, unlike with Seattle, I will chalk that up to the team simply not showing up for whatever reason rather than a matchup problem.

Also, if opponent rebounding is Virginia’s poison, then the open-post is the cure. In large part because the offense stations Wake’s post players so far from the basket, Wake is No. 300 in the country in adjusted offensive rebounding percentage. Without Assane Sene , Wake the Demon Deacons have a big size advantage against UVa, but they won’t be using it to clean the offensive glass.

3. Defensively, Bzdelik likes to utilize a 2-3 matchup zone to go along with some more traditional man defense. Ideally, the matchup zone should quickly react to the offense and seal any gaps, but the Deacs have been dreadful in preventing penetration. SCACCHoops.com has a nice analysis of Wake’s defensive breakdowns, using footage from the Virginia game last year, and many of last year’s problems, which also include the failure to help on screens, continue to plague this year’s squad, which ranks No. 195 in adjusted defensive efficiency. While Wake has a couple of terrific shot blockers, the team is terrible at forcing turnovers, coming in at No. 301 in adjusted defensive turnover percentage. In other words, Wake’s defense is the antithesis to the pressure cooker of Florida State’s Junkyard defense.

4. Starting lineup:

PG: Running the show for the Deacs is No. 1 Tony Chennault, a hard-nosed 6’1″, 195-pound sophomore from the City of Brotherly Love. After missing about half of his freshman season with a stress fracture in his foot, Chennault has averaged a little more than 30 minutes per game this season and tallied an even 10 points per game. Chennault is a pretty solid all around player without any one attribute that jumps out at you besides his grit. His main calling card is his defense, and he manages 1.1 steals and 3.1 rebounds per game. Chennault likes to get penetration, and he’s better at driving and dishing (3.0 assists/game) than driving and finishing, with his layup attempts too frequently missing the mark when he actually makes it to the hoop (2.2 turnovers per game). Overall, Chennault is a decent shooter from the field (43%), but he’s not much of a threat from behind the arc (28.6%) or the free throw line (60.8%).

SG: After primarily playing at the point last year, No. 11 C.J. Harris , a 6’3″, 190-pound junior, has shifted over to the shooting guard slot this year. Despite his time at the “1,” Harris’ handle is average, leading to 2.6 turnovers a game (along with 2.4 assists per game). Harris isn’t the fastest, biggest, or most athletic player, but his shot is silky smooth. He’s shooting an even 50% from the field on the season to go along with his 83.1% shooting from the line and his team-leading 45.6% shooting from behind the arc. Harris also leads the Deacs in points (17.5) and minutes (34.9) per game. On the defensive end of the court, Harris has above average lateral quickness, allowing him to keep opposing guards in front of him and garner a steal a game. Last year, he was only 2-10 from the field against UVa, but he was 10-10 from the line and scored 15 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 7 assists.

SF: Starting at the “3” for the Deacs is former UVa prospect Travis McKie (No. 30), a sophomore who stands at 6’7″, 210 pounds. McKie’s offensive game is multifaceted: He can just as easily spot up as post up and is a threat in both the halfcourt and transition game. McKie leads Wake in rebounds per game (7.2) and is second in scoring (15.8 points/game). On the season, his shooting numbers are solid: 46.6%, 36.2%, and 71% from the field, 3-point range, and the line. But he’s been maddeningly inconsistent in ACC play, alternating good games with his performances against NC State, Florida State, and UNC, in which he shot 1-5, 1-13, and 2-11 from the field, respectively. His handle is also a bit suspect as he coughs up 2.5 turnovers per game. McKie brings a lot of energy on the defensive end and is better at closing out shooters than preventing penetration. Last year, McKie dropped a double-double on Virginia (12 points/10 rebounds), and stopping him should certainly be a focal point of the Pack-Line.

PF: Wake’s starting power forward is No. 25 Nikita Mescheriakov, a 6’8″, 220-pound redshirt senior from Belarus by way of Georgetown. Offensively, Mescheriakov is a classic European post, preferring to score in the midrange game (including some hook shots) rather than through banging down low. His problem, though, is that he’s not much of a shooter. Mescheriakov is managing only 7.3 points per game on 34.6% shooting from the field and an abysmal 21.8% from behind the arc. This 3-point futility hasn’t prevented the big guy from launching long balls with impunity: He’s 2-20 from behind the arc in nine ACC games this season. On the other end of the ball, Mescheriakov is a bit of a foul machine. Against NCSU, he fouled out after 14 minutes on the floor, and he’s racked up 4 fouls in 3 other ACC games this season. Last year, Mescheriakov’s only contributions in the game against Virginia were a foul and a turnover in four minutes.

C: After a nine-game suspension for violation of athletic department rules, No. 40 Ty Walker, a 7’0″, 230-pound senior, has returned and started as Wake’s center in the last nine games. Walker frequently can check in and out of games, and he’s currently better on the defensive side, where he uses his length to average 2.9 blocks per game. Offensively, many of his points are of the garbage variety, and he never really developed post moves. He’s averaging only 5.3 points per game on 50.8% shooting and at an even 5 points per game in ACC play before the NC State game this Saturday when he tied his season high with 12 points. Walker also nabs 5.4 boards per game and is hitting an impressive 80% of his shots from the line but barely ever gets there (.7 attempts per game).

Key bench players:

SG: No. 10 Chase Fischer, a 6’3″, 180-pound freshman, gets the most minutes per game (26.7) off the bench for the Deacs. To this point in his career, Fischer hasn’t shown an ability to create his own shot, scoring most of his points on set shots off of screens. Most of those shots, however, go awry. Fischer is scoring 6.9 points per game but only shooting 36% from the field and 33.3% from 3. Fischer is, though, the team’s best free throw shooter (84.8) and averages a team-high 4.3 attempts from the line per game. Fischer sometimes attempts to do too much with his passes, prompting 1.2 turnovers per game, and he’s an adequate, rather than superlative, defender.

C: Carson Desrosiers, a 7’0″, 240 pound sophomore, started Wake’s first 14 games while Walker was suspended and working his way back into the lineup. Despite playing at center for the Deacs, Desrosiers is really more of a face up “4” than a back-to-the-basket “5.” On one Wake message board, he’s been labeled “as soft as Charmin” and “as nimble as Estelle Getty.” And while these proclamations are obviously over the top, you get the idea: Desrosiers isn’t the fastest or toughest post, and he’s also lacking in strength. On the season, he’s averaging 4.4 points per game on 43.8% shooting from the field and subpar 54.5% shooting from the line. When he stays with his defender, Desrosiers can often finish off the play with a block (2.2/game), but he too often gets beaten off the dribble.

And that’s it. Wake basically plays a seven-man rotation with any other player getting token minutes at most. Reserve guard Anthony Field does average 10.5 minutes per game, but he’s only seen the floor a total of 17 minutes in nine ACC games.

5. Sabre Poster 504-C Brandon predicts the game as a 67.2-50.5 UVa win, with the Hoos having a 93% chance at winning. And the Team Rankings simulation (available here) has it as a 66-56.1 win for the Cavs.

I think that the result ends up somewhere in the middle of these predictions and will say that UVa takes it by a score of 66-54. Of course, last year’s game is all the evidence you need that Virginia can lose to the Deacs. That said, if Florida State was the worst ACC matchup the Hoos face all year, Wake might be the best. The Deacs are among the worst teams in combined offensive rebounding and forcing turnovers, so they shouldn’t get many second chance scoring opportunities against UVa and the offense should have some room to operate.

Author’s Note: Many of the statistics and analysis in this article were gathered through watching the two teams, ESPN.com, 504-C Brandon’s TAPE site, Warren Nolan RPI site, Teamrankings.com, and KenPom.com.

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