While Wake Forest fans have known for a while that James Johnson was not going to be back for the 2009-2010 season, some have held out hope that Jeff Teague would be back in Winston-Salem. However, after reading recent quotes and draft projections it seems more and more likely that Teague will not be around for his junior campaign. While the losses of the Deacons' super sophomores will certainly be damaging, Wake Forest still has plenty of talent and height to do some damage in the ACC next season...
After the bitter, bitter conclusion to last season, the remaining Wake Forest players are sure to be eager to erase these thoughts and move on to the new task at hand. The expectations from the media and fans will likely not be as heavy considering the losses of their two leading scorers, but it is obvious that the Deacons will desperately want to get back into the postseason and earn a chance to redeem themselves. What will it take to compete for a spot in the top quarter of the conference though?
First, the biggest issue with the likely departures of both Teague and Johnson is putting points on the board. The remaining guards are not known as big-time scorers and the big men have been wildly inconsistent. The bulk of this weight will be on Al-Farouq Aminu, Chas McFarland and Ish Smith. Aminu often deferred to his older teammates last season, but will likely be Wake's number one option next season. Look for Aminu to further develop his mid-range game and assertiveness this summer with Team USA. Simply put, Farouq Aminu needs to be an All-ACC performer for Wake to be a Top 25 team next year.
Center Chas McFarland's offensive prowess will also be key. McFarland possesses the ability to score consistently with his back to the basket. However, in many cases last season he did not receive touches on the blocks or was sitting on the bench with foul trouble. Hopefully Chas will be able to keep his attitude in check next season and be a force in the low-post.
Much discussed point guard Ish Smith will also be looking to end his career on a high note. After battling injuries early on and sharing point guard duties with Jeff Teague last season, Smith will be out to prove that he is one of the top point guards in the ACC. Normally known as a jet quick distributor, Ish showed that he can score by netting double figures in each of his last seven ACC regular season games last season. While it would be a bonus for Smith's 3-point percentage to increase next season, his game thrives on floaters and tough finishes in traffic. Ideally, Ish will average double figures next season and, more importantly, rack up assists to the towering front line of the Deacs.
A couple of the other big factors that will determine next season's success are the development of the young Demon Deacon big men and the contributions from the freshmen. Big men often show large jumps in development after their first college season and Wake fans hope that is the case with Tony Woods and Ty Walker. If Woods is able work on his footwork and develop and nice drop-step it could have large implications. While he is ready for the big time physically, his limited offensive game often held him back last year. Walker, on the other hand, is more advanced offensively but still has work to do to be physically ready for the ACC. He used his first year to gain 30 pounds and looks to add 20 more and make 250 by next season. Walker's tremendous shot blocking ability is well documented and should help him grab some minutes next season. I, for one, am very excited to see what he can do next year when he finally gets an opportunity to prove himself. With Wake's lack of guards, look for the staff to use two of McFarland, Woods, Walker and Weaver at times next season. McFarland and Walker both have the ability to play in the high post and could see some time at the power forward spot on the offensive end.
Of the freshmen, Ari Stewart is the one that is most likely to have a large impact on the Deacons' success. Stewart had a championship season last winter and saw his stock rise a great deal. The versatile small forward brings James Johnson-like athleticism and range out to the three-point line to the table. He is a player that could be starting by ACC play if he asserts himself and can adjust to the college game quickly. Guards C.J. Harris and Konner Tucker will also have the opportunity to earn some quality minutes right away. Wake Forest will certainly not be deep at the guard position next season, so if Harris and Tucker prove that they can handle the ball or shoot consistently from deep, they could be right in the thick of things. Ish Smith and LD Williams will not be able to play the entire game, so contributions from Gary Clark, Harris, and Tucker will definitely be needed.
On the defensive end of the floor, the Deacons' have a chance to improve on their success from last season. Without having to play Teague and Smith together, the opposing team will not be able to use their height against Wake's guards. Instead, emotional leader L.D. Williams will be out once again to prove that he is among the best defenders in the league. Furthermore, the length of the Deacs inside should cause big problems for opposing teams in the paint. The height and athleticism of Aminu, Woods, Walker, McFarland, Weaver and Stewart should be able to minimize the interior scoring of Deacon opponents.
Finally, the coaching staff will have to take the next step in its development as well. Coach Dino Gaudio has added two guys in Rusty Larue and Dave Wojcik that will hopefully help solve the half court woes of recent Wake teams . In his 3rd season at the helm, Gaudio will look to improve his overall game management skills and silence some of his doubters. There was definite improvement, especially on the defensive end, between his first two years and one would expect that to continue. However, one thing we all learned last year is that no matter how well the regular season goes, his final evaluation will ultimately rest on how Wake performs in the post season.
Considering the departures throughout the ACC this spring, there is no clear favorite like North Carolina was for the previous two seasons. Duke looks to be in the best shape, but they have to fill the large void of Gerald Henderson and do not have a true point guard. Overall, the league is very wide open and it will be interesting to see if the Demon Deacons can make some noise. Hopefully the noise does not peak in January this time through.