So obviously, this season hasn't been off to the auspicious start that many Wake fans, including myself, were hoping for. We lost the first home opener in school history, Tony Chennault is out for probably the entire season with a broken foot, we have no true point guard, and turnovers in particular are plaguing the Deacs in almost ridiculous fashion. Having said that, some fans are truly up in arms, some even going so far as to already question the hiring of Coach Bzdelik. This is unfortunate and, in my opinion, misguided. Call me an eternal optimist, but I'm seeing some things I like that I think bode well, maybe not as much for this season, but certainly for seasons to come. Read on to find out what those are.
So, the first thing that jumps to mind is the rebounding. In the Stetson game, well, the less said about that the better. They outrebounded us 42-31, including 14 offensive rebounds. Yikes. That's just ugly. With Hampton, the offensive rebounding was even worse, as they pulled down 16. On the night, however, the Deacs ended up +5 in the overall rebound margin, On top of that, the rebounding seemed to be much more a team effort, with Ari once again pulling down 10, but Travis and Ty pulling down 8 each as opposed to 5 each in the opener. The VCU game was a bit of an anomaly, with CJ being the leading rebounder, and Ty (somehow) not pulling down a single board. Ari was once again strong, pulling down 7 boards, and Travis pulling down a respectable 5. The most encouraging thing about the trend, even though VCU still outrebounded the Deacs and pulled down far too many boards on the offensive glass, is that the rebounding appears to be becoming more of a team effort, which was the main problem in the Stetson game. Where it should be? No, but there are improvements.
Next, turnovers. There's not really much sugarcoating this one. It's still ugly. Real ugly. Actually, just looking at raw numbers, it's been getting WORSE. However, looking at just the raw numbers is somewhat misguided. The VCU game is the only good example here, but in the first half of the VCU game, there were only 8 turnovers, and against the stiffest competition we've had thus far (I for one think that VCU looks like a legitimate NCAA bid contender, and kenpom stats tend to support this theory). Where the wheels really came off, turnover-wise, was when VCU began that full court pressure in the second half. I honestly think that may have been the most aggressive press I've ever seen against a Wake team, or at least among the most aggressive. I'd like to think that the team is going to work extensively on that in practice, so that hopefully they'll be more prepared in the future. There might not be any sugarcoating it, but I certainly think that it will get better with time and experience.
Tony is out. It hurts, it's brutal, but the good news, if there is any, is that Tony will be eligible to receive a medical redshirt this year if he is in fact out for the entirety of the season. I'd call that a silver lining. Furthermore, if the season continues like this, I don't really foresee anyone being one and done from an on-court standpoint, and who knows what the guys feel personally? This means that (I think, anyway) it's a pretty safe assumption we won't need to worry about any kind of massive talent exodus like we had last year, or the year that Jeff Teague and James Johnson both left.
Back to on court bright sides. The free throw shooting is probably going to be very solid this year. This will help when our bigs get a little better at working the offensive glass, and (hopefully) our guards get better with drawing contact.
The main thing that has been actively improving on the court has been the shot selection. In the Stetson game, Wake was a cringe-worthy 8-26 from three. A lot of bricked shots and missed opportunities there. In the Hampton game, it was 3-9. Still not very hot shooting by any means, but shots were selected more carefully, and the percentage was better. Against VCU, we were a very nice 56.3% from three. If we can improve inside shooting, this could end up being a very nice offense indeed.
Wake has also been drawing a pretty nice number of free throws, 20+ each game. Like I said, with the fairly strong free throw shooting thus far, this could be a big plus for the Deacs going forward.
AUTHOR EDIT: Something that I somehow forgot to mention in the original draft is the energy we saw in sections of the VCU game. We were down 14 early in the first half, cut it to 3 before the end of the first half, and came out firing to go up by 4 early in the second, before the hardcore pressure started. That kind of heart and fight is something you can't really teach, only build upon, and especially from a team as young as this one, that was great to see.
Now for some individual player bright sides.
Travis McKie is going to be an absolute baller. There's no two ways about it. 13.7 PPG, 55.6% shooting, 6.0 rebounds per game, 1.3 steals a block per game for good measure...Travis is the one guy who's consistently showed some presence inside and from mid range so far, at least for my money.
JT Terrell hasn't yet been lighting it up how some people were probably expecting him to, but he is our leading scorer, and I just generally get the feeling that things will "click" for JTT eventually, and when they do, it will be a thing of beauty. We need to give all the players time to get used to things, and this is especially true for the freshmen.
Ty Walker is going to be a defensive problem for teams inside. He does need to be more selective with his blocking, and be more active rebounding, but I saw flashes of that in the VCU game, and I think he'll continue to improve. In terms of volume with clean blocks, though, Ty is all over the place, and that certainly isn't a bad thing.
Ari Stewart is our leading rebounder, and I like what I see as far as him stepping up and using his size and athleticism to come down with the ball. Ari's also been chipping in 12 PPG, and while he's only been 43% shooting, he's 83.333% from the stripe, and seems like he can really become a major factor with more experience.
C.J. Harris has added 10.7 PPG, 3.7 APG, and 5.0 rebounds. Turnovers have been a problem, and he's not shooting as well as we'd like (41%, though that's with a nice 44.4% from 3), and he's had some uncharacteristic issues at the stripe (66.7%? Come on CJ, we know you can do better) but the more time he spends at the point, I do believe his A/T ratio will improve, and things will start running more smoothly with the offense as the season progresses.
Gary Clark has run the point on occasion himself, and of all the (scholarship) Deacs, Gary has seemed to be the most reliable taking care of the ball, having 5 assists and 6 turnovers, and he's had those 6 turnovers with significant minutes. Gary has also felt it beyond the arc it would seem, hitting 3 of his 4 attempts on the season, and contributing at the stripe by hitting 7 of 8 free throws. It's looking like Gary will be able to contribute, especially on the experience end of things, which is something this team will sorely need.
Carson Desrosiers has had modest contributions statistically, but I think he's looked good off the bench, and, as I've been saying for basically everyone, I think that he's got a lot of potential to contribute more as the season goes on.
Melvin Tabb obviously hasn't been able to do too much given the mono, but 4 points and 3.5 rebounds in an average of 12.5 minutes isn't anything to scoff at. I can't even imagine what it's like trying to play with mono, and I'm quite excited to see what he's capable of at full strength,
Look, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that this team is all of a sudden going to click and light the world on fire (though that would be basically the most awesome thing ever), all I'm saying is there are definitely positives in this generally dismal start to the season. I think things like improving team defense and limiting turnovers will begin to improve as the team gets more experience as individuals and more chemistry as a unit.
This is more than likely (I'd say definitely, but I hesitate to speak in absolutes with things like this) going to be a difficult and disappointing season. At the same time, though, the Tie-Dye Nation should remember, we're a young team with a new coach that's playing without a true point guard. We should do our best as fans to consider each win worth cherishing, and watching this team with an eye towards the future as much as possible.
I'm just as guilty as anybody of being disappointed and at times angry. How could we not be? But how can we be questioning a coach three games into his first season? How can we assume that things aren't going to get better when we're a squad that starts mostly freshmen and sophomores?
I'd love it if we were 3-0 and looking like a million bucks. But we're not, and those would be pretty unrealistic expectations, especially in the aftermath of Tony Chennault's injury. It's a long season, for better (like now) and for worse (like the #1 ranked season...ouch.), and I don't foresee a talent exodus with any of our young guys at this point, so going forward, there's plenty of upside.
I don't claim to be a basketball encyclopedia, so feel free to take any or all of my assertions here with a grain of salt, or even several grains of salt. This is just one fan's perspective, and is simply my modest attempt to help bring some of my fellow Deac lovers from off the ledge.
Feet on the ground, head in the clouds, fellow Tie-Dye Nation faithful. Support this team. BELIEVE in them. But also understand them, and try not to crush them under the weight of unrealistic expectations. Am I expecting anything amazing this year? Sadly. not now. But this team will improve. They're already improving. And win or lose, I expect them to be fun to watch.
And, oh yeah: GO DEACS.