Teven Jones and the Hoos eye a 2-0 ACC start.
After pulling away late to beat UNC in their ACC opener, the Virginia Cavaliers (11-3, 1-0 ACC) hit the road for a Wednesday night tilt against Wake Forest. Will the Wahoos win their first game in Winston-Salem since 2000, or will the Demon Deacons (7-6, 0-1 ACC) continue to make the Joel Coliseum a house of horrors for UVa? Find out in the Wake Forest Primer.
1. Team Introduction. Less than 4 years ago, Wake Forest was on top of the college basketball world, with a No. 1 national ranking and a bevy of recent players lacing them up in the NBA. Roughly 4 years later, the Deacs have suffered from a complete reversal of fortune since firing Dino Gaudio and replacing him with Jeff Bzdelik. Bzdelik, who was coming off 3 consecutive losing seasons as the head coach at the University of Colorado, is on pace to replicate that feat in Winston-Salem. Two years ago, Wake Forest finished 8-24 (1-15 ACC) and was widely considered the worst team in a Power 6 conference. Last year, the Demon Deacons saw marginal improvement, tallying a 13-18 (4-12 ACC) record, including a 68-44 loss in Charlottesville that wasn’t as close as the score suggests. But the Deacs then lost any possible momentum from last season’s minimal gains when three players transferred in the offseason.
Wake was tabbed to finish 11th in the ACC Preseason Media Poll, and it has done very little to give the Deacon faithful reason to expect that this was an underestimation. Six of Wake’s seven victories have been over the teams ranked No. 173, No. 262, No. 285, No. 313, No. 336, and No. 343 in the RPI. Two games ago, Wake did earn its seventh victory over a Xavier team (No. 118 RPI) that has underachieved this year, and it followed that up with an 80-62 road loss at Duke to open ACC play. On the season, Wake is No. 160 in the RPI, No. 156 in KenPom, and No. 190 in TAPE.
2. Offense. When Wake Forest beat Virginia for its lone ACC victory two years ago, Jeff Bzdelik was still employing the modified Princeton offense that he used at Colorado. But, after his disastrous first year in Winston-Salem, Bzdelik scrapped this offensive philosophy in favor of an open-post motion offense. In last year’s Wake Primer I included a diagram of the spacing and positioning of this offense and explained why I thought that it would be especially ineffective against the Pack-Line: The offense starts with the post players on the perimeter in an attempt to spread out the defense and create opportunities for drives into the lane. I simply don’t see how this offense can be successful against the stay-at-home Pack-Line unless Wake can hit its 3-pointers. Last year, it couldn’t, going 4 of 13 from behind the arc, 14 of 41 from the field, and having nearly twice as many turnovers (17) as assists (9) in the 68-44 loss.
This season, Wake is actually accomplishing some of the goals of the open-post. Nationally, it is a terrific No. 7 in adjusted free throw rate and a decent No. 92 in effective field goal percentage. But the Deacs are only No. 151 in adjusted offensive efficiency because they are No. 260 in adjusted turnover rate and No. 262 in adjusted offensive rebounding rate. Readers of these Primers know that I place a lot of emphasis on this last statistic because good offensive rebounding teams give UVa problems. But this shouldn’t be the case with Wake Forest’s young, undersized frontcourt.
3. Defense. On the defensive side, Bzdelik employs a 2-3 matchup zone in addition to some man-to-man defense. Some of the keys to the matchup zone are sealing gaps and assisting on screens, which veteran teams can do quite well. But with the turnover on the roster, the Demon Deacons have been pretty terrible across the board on the defensive end. They are No. 172 in adjusted defensive efficiency based in part on the following rankings: No. 188 in opponents’ effective field goal percentage, No. 244 in adjusted defensive rebounding rate, No. 228 in opponents’ free throw rate, and No. 206 in adjusted turnover rate. Primer readers also know that I’m very concerned by teams that are good at forcing turnovers, a concern that doesn’t apply to this year’s Wake team.
4. Player Turnover. As noted, three players transferred from Wake Forest in the offseason. Last season, point guard Tony Chennault was the Deacs’ leader in assists per game and third on the team in scoring. Meanwhile, Carson Desrosiers was a center who saw 21.6 minutes of action per game, and backup guard Anthony Fields was eighth on the team with 8.9 minutes per game. In addition to these transfers, senior big man Nikita Mescheriakov (8 PPG) graduated, and sophomore center Daniel Green has been lost for the season after tearing his ACL.
5. Possible Starters. Here is a look at the projected first five for the Deacs …
Point Guard: While Chennault transferred, many in Winston-Salem would claim that Wake Forest still upgraded at the point guard position. That’s because freshman Codi Miller-McIntyre (No. 0), a 6’3″, 195-pound freshman, is the centerpiece of Wake’s seven man 2012 recruiting class. When people call Miller-McIntyre a combo guard, it’s not meant to disparage his skills as a “1.” The frosh can certainly fill it up on either 3-point attempts (46.2%) or midrange jumpers, and he’s averaging a solid 8.5 points per game. But Miller-McIntyre is also a good distributor who averages 2.8 assists based on his basketball IQ and court vision. As is typical with freshman point guards, Miller-McIntyre sometimes tries to do too much, which partially explains his 2 turnovers per game. Another part of the explanation is that he’s about a step slow, which can make it hard for him to keep up with the (Teven) Joneses. With the way that Jontel Evans looked against UNC, and with Teven Jones beginning to find the range on his outside shot, I look forward to seeing whether Miller-McIntyre can hang with the Cavaliers defensively.
Shooting Guard: You could say that Wake will be starting combo guards at both the “1” and the “2” because C.J. Harris played the point for the Deacs during his sophomore campaign before shifting over to shooting guard last season. But I would say that Harris is really a pure shooting guard. Harris (No. 11), a 6’3″, 190-pound senior is deadly from wherever he shoots it: the field (53.2%), behind the arc (41.7%), and the line (80%). The knock of Harris, however, has always been that he lacks other facets to his game. He’s averaging a career-low 1.7 rebounds a game and has 34 turnovers on the season against only 26 assists. Harris’ problem is that he’s just not athletic enough to be much more than a spot-up shooter, which is still enough for him to average 14.6 points per game. I will say, though, that Harris puts a lot of effort on the defensive side of the ball and has enough lateral quickness to prevent penetration by most opposing shooting guards. With the way that Paul Jesperson has been stroking his 3-point shot recently, fans could see a lot of triples coming from the shooting guard position in this game.
Forward: Wake’s best player is former UVa prospect Travis McKie (No. 30), a 6’7″, 220-pound junior from Richmond. McKie leads Wake in both points (15.1) and rebounds (8.2) per game and is just as capable of posting up as knocking down the short to midrange jumper. That said, for whatever reason, McKie’s field goal (44.8% vs. 47.8%) and 3-point (25% vs. 37.9%) percentages are both down from last season, and that’s with ACC play having just started. This gets back to the rub with McKie that I mentioned in last year’s Wake Primer: He’s inconsistent. In a three-game stretch against Nebraska, Richmond, and High Point, McKie averaged just 8.67 points per game on 29.6% shooting. Then, in the ensuing five games, ending with the loss to Duke, he’s averaged 18.4 points a contest on 51.7% shooting. McKie’s 2.3 turnovers a game reveal that his handle is still a bit suspect, but he is the one Wake player who had a good game against the Hoos last season (16 points and 6 rebounds). Defensively, McKie is very good on the perimeter and getting better down low. To the extent that Joe Harris is matched up against McKie, he will have to work hard to get off his shots.
Forward: The frontcourt is where the offseason attrition really starts to hurt the Demon Deacons. After coming off the bench for Wake in his first 9 games, Arnaud William Adala Moto (No. 45), a 6’6″, 225-pound freshman, has started the last four games. Moto actually reminds me a good deal of Darion Atkins last year as he’s a foul-prone, undersized post player with a big wingspan (7’1″) and athleticism to spare but more of a propensity to foul than score. On the season, Moto is averaging 4.8 points per game on 46% shooting and 50% accuracy from the line. In his last three games, he’s committed 13 fouls in a total of 48 minutes as he struggles to defend larger and more seasoned bigs. We’ve all seen the big leap that Atkins has (literally) experienced this year, and I would like UVa’s chances against Moto if he were matched up against either Akil Mitchell or Atkins at full strength. But with Mitchell’s ankle and Atkins’ shins, I really have no idea what to expect.
Forward/Center: Devin Thomas (No. 2), a 6’9″, 240-pound freshman, has started every game of his college career for the Demon Deacons. Thomas is a classic back-to-the basket big who scores the vast majority of his 6.1 points a game from within a few feet of the basket. Because he’s often going against taller opponents, Thomas has struggled to put the ball in the basket as he shoots only 41.4% from the floor, and he’s not much better from the free throw line (50%). That said, Thomas has heart and holds his own down low, pulling down 6.5 rebounds and blocking 1.2 shots per game. But when he’s gone against better bigs, he has struggled mightily, recording 0 points against Duke’s Mason Plumlee and Nebraska’s Andre Almeida. Again, I would like UVa’s chances here with healthy starters but can’t project too much given those injuries. But if Mike Tobey has his midrange jumper going, I have a hard time seeing Thomas being much of a perimeter defender at this point.
6. Key Reserves. Here are a few of the bench players for the Demon Deacons …
Point Guard: Former Virginia prospect Madison Jones (No. 1), a 6’1″, 160-pound freshman, sees 18.9 minutes a game of action, primarily as a backup “1.” From his game, I can see why Tony Bennett gave him a look. He’s got speed to burn and is an efficient scorer from the field, averaging 4.6 points per game on 52.4% shooting. Jones is also active on the defensive end of the floor and uses his 6’5″ wingspan to good effect, forcing 1.4 steals and even .7 blocks a game. On the other hand, I can also see why Bennett went with another Jones as his 2012 point guard recruit. Most of Jones’ baskets come in transition or on drives to the hoop, and he has little in the way of a jump shot and nothing in the way of a 3-point stroke (0-2 on the season). Jones is also under 50% (47.1%) on the season in free throw shooting.
Shooting Guard: Chase Fischer (No. 10), a 6’3″, 195-pound sophomore, is like a younger version of C.J. Harris . He is known primarily, if not exclusively, for his shooting, and has shown an inability to this point to create his own shot against better opposition. In 17.5 minutes of floor time per game, Fischer is averaging 5.7 points per game on 50% shooting from behind the arc and 6-21 (28.6%) shooting from inside the arc. Against Radford, Mercer, High Point, and UNC-Greensboro, he averaged 12.5 points with 14-20 (70%) shooting from 3-point land. Against other teams that have guarded him more closely, he has failed to crack double digits in any single game and averaged 2.67 points on 5-18 (27.8%) shooting from behind the arc. Besides his shot, Fischer brings little else to the table. He’s not much of a defender (.5 steals/game) or a rebounder (1.2 rebounds/game).
Power Forward: Tyler Cavanaugh (No. 34), a 6’9″, 230-pound freshman, started five of the Demon Deacons’ first six games before being relegated to a role off of the bench. The face-up “4” is averaging 6.3 points in 17.2 minutes per game, but he’s yet to really find the range on his jump shot. He’s connecting on only 33.3% of his shots and 25% of his shots from behind the arc. It seems as if Cavanaugh has hit the proverbial freshman wall as his minutes and production have dropped as the season has progressed. In his last three games, Cavanaugh has scored a total of 8 points in limited minutes based upon ineffectiveness and foul trouble.
7. Prediction. There’s a black cloud hanging over Winston-Salem, and I’m not talking about the one coming from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. We should expect a small turnout and a dead atmosphere at the Joel by a fan base that’s fed up with Bzdelik and Athletics Director Ron Wellman. But even black clouds have silver linings, and we need look no farther back than 2 years ago to see that Wake can easily hang a loss on Virginia. But that Wake team featured an offensive scheme more suited to attack the Pack-Line, and that UVa team was still learning the ropes of Tony Bennett’s offensive and defensive philosophies.
504-C Brandon projects this game as a 61.9-56.5 UVa win, with the Wahoos having a 67.5% chance of winning. The Team Rankings Simulation has the Hoos scoring a few more points in a 64.4-56.7 victory. While I like the matchup in terms of coaches, schemes, and players, it is really hard to project this game given the number of injury question marks that the Cavaliers have. I will go ahead and pick this one pretty close to the projections as a 60-55 UVa victory.