What follows are my (attempts at) impartial thoughts concerning the men's basketball team. I will offer analysis of players, schemes, and attempt to diagnose causes based on these. This is not intended to be an indictment of any individual. The players are 18- to 22-year olds. Some fluctuation of quality of play is to be expected, based solely on that fact alone.
Editors Note: We will have a RoundTable Discussion of Wake Forest basketball coming later this afternoon from the perspective of some editors and writers. This is a fantastic first look at the Deacs and where we are at this point in the Jeff Bzdelik Era, as well as the players that are here.
This is also a great example of the work that should be put forth to get on the front page. It's well researched, well written, and generates new and good discussion of the basketball team.
Offense: While not a slow team, Wake has not played as quickly on offense as Wake fans are usually accustomed to seeing under Skip Prosser and Dino Gaudio. The pace has slowed further in ACC play, as Bzdelik has used the flex offense to effectively shorten games. The reason for doing this is to reduce the number of possessions in a game, which increases the likelihood of an atypical result occurring, such as a less talented team winning. The flex offense relies on all five positions working together in a way to force the defense to stay disciplined in terms of switching on screens or adjusting for cutters. The flex also is designed to generate post offense through pin-down screens combined with both vertical and horizontal cuts to the low block, where a player with a desirable matchup (not necessarily a big) will hypothetically receive the ball in good position to exploit said matchup. Because the offense is designed for quick hits to the interior, most players float around the perimeter for long stretches. This results in typically poor offensive rebounding numbers. This system also places an emphasis on big guys who are comfortable playing on the perimeter, both via knocking down shots and setting good screens. The flex offense seeks to minimize risks in order to avoid turnovers, which would potentially increase the rate of play.
Defense: Wake plays most of the time in a fairly standard man-to-man, with elements of the Bennett pack-line defense wherein weakside players sag off in order to compact the defense around the lane. Close-outs tend to be rushed, because Wake possesses two capable shot-blocker anchors in Ty Walker and Carson Derosiers. This can often lead to poor defensive rotations, as player sag too much. Wake occasionally also utilizes a 2-3 zone as a means to throw off opposing offenses. The zone lacks effectiveness as a primary defense because of the general lack of height that Wake possesses, but is useful as a disrupting influence for short periods. In both schemes, defensive rebounding is a concern due to the lack of height.
Scholarship Player Analysis (aka, What We Have)
(1) Tony Chennault, starting PG, sophomore
Strengths: Stocky build provides strength which which to combat bigger point guards. Has the strength to absorb contact and finish plays when attacking guards. Fairly quick off the dribble. Capable of attacking the lane. Contrary to what most fans believe, does not turn the ball over an exceptionally high amount (possibly as a result of splitting primary ball-handling duties with others in half-court sets).
Weaknesses: Poor shooter. Questionable decision-maker in transition. Capable of letting his emotion/competitiveness get the better of his judgment, which leads to even more bad decisions. While not overly short, seems to have issues bothering perimeter shots on close-outs. Poor weakside defensive rotations. High usage rate on offense.
(2) Anthony Fields, backup PG, freshman
Strengths: Strong on-ball defender. Always gives a high effort. Excellent passer offensively. Capable of getting into the lane. Seems to play larger than his listed height.
Weaknesses: Extremely limited offensively. No threat whatsoever from the perimeter. Lacks strength to keep from being bullied by stronger players.
(4) Daniel Green, backup PF, freshman
Strengths: High work-rate. Tall, with long arms. Has the potential to be a decent outside shooter. Good help defender.
Weaknesses: Lacks upper body strength to deal with more seasoned bigs, particularly inside. Currently limited offensively.
(10) Chase Fischer, backup SG, freshman
Strengths: Very good shooter, particularly coming off screens. Works hard. Increasingly comfortable with the ball in his hands. Has shown potential to be an offensive distributor. Uses screens well off the dribble. Improving defensively.
Weaknesses: Not tall for a shooting guard. Not particularly athletic. Still hesitant to shoot frequently. Still something of a defensive liability, due to his size and limited athleticism.
(11) CJ Harris, starting SG, junior
Strengths: Extremely capable offensive player. Excellent shooter. Aggressively savvy off the dribble. Excels at drawing contact. Decent distributor of the ball. Good defensive rebounder for his size. Smart defender in terms of positioning his body.
Weaknesses: Not overly athletic. Capable of being shut down by dedicated defenders. Occasionally tries too hard to draw contact. Short for a shooting guard. Reluctant to assert himself as go-to offensive player when other options aren't working.
(25) Nikita Mescheriakov, starting PF, senior
Strengths: Exceedingly quick for a big. Excellent first step. Can beat most bigs off the dribble. A good shooter on mid-range attempts. Comfortable on the perimeter.
Weaknesses: Lacks strength. Occasionally plays out of control offensively. Uses an inordinate amount of offensive possessions given his general ineffectiveness. Poor long range shooter. Susceptible to turnovers. Sub-par defender. Poor rebounder.
(30) Travis McKie, starting SF, sophomore
Strengths: Varied offensive game. Willing to exploit his advantages on offense by taking smaller players into the post or big guys to the perimeter. Relentless rebounder. Excellent motor. Works very hard defensively.
Weaknesses: Plays smaller than his listed measurements. Middling shooter. Occasionally falls in love with his outside shot to the detriment of his more varied offensive game. Forces high difficulty shots with alarming consistency.
(33) Carson Desrosiers, backup C, sophomore
Strengths: Decent strength. Aggressive in the low post on offense. Good screener. Excellent shot-blocking timing. Mature demeanor. Solid mid-range jumper. Sweet chin-strap beard.
Weaknesses: Can be outmuscled by other bigs. Seems to enjoy taking 3-pointers. Not a good long range shooter. Subpar rebounder for his height.
(40) Ty Walker, starting C, senior
Strengths: Wingspan of a Stretch Armstrong doll. Excellent shot-blocker. Increasingly aggressive rebounder. Becoming a good pick and roll defender.
Weaknesses: Limited offensively. Inconsistent jumper. Very few low post offensive moves. Lacks strength to compete with heavier players.
Two things of note here. First, eight scholarship players is a small number (it would've been six if not for the late additions of Fields and Green). This has two effects, one obvious and one less obvious. The obvious effect is the direct in-game effects of having a thin roster. Wake has three guards, one hybrid forward, and four big guys. If McKie gets in foul trouble (or gets ejected), then Wake's roster options become extremely limited. Furthermore, since neither Fields or Green gets much playing time, the already thin roster becomes even more depleted, making Wake susceptible to fatigue. The second, less obvious effect occurs in practice. Without more capable players to practice against, the scholarship players' opportunities to push themselves to improve are severely limited. This is the hidden aspect of depth - if your secondary players can push your starters in practice, then both units will be better prepared for the starting talent of other teams during games.
The second thing of note is that a lot of Wake's players are limited offensively. Fields and Green pose no threat offensively to speak of, while Walker is generally limited. On top of that, the roster contains only two legitimately quality shooters. Given the emphasis that the flex places on outside shooting, it's no wonder that we've had some of the dismal offensive nights that we've had. Furthermore, given our reliance on two players for such a large percentage of our offense, there has to be some threat of other players scoring or defenses will just key in on McKie and CJ (which, I think, is why Fields has not gotten much playing time - Chennault provides much more offensive balance).
Generally, it seems as if the players on the current roster have improved over the course of the past year. Of the five returning players, McKie and CJ have obviously made huge strides offensively. Ditto for Walker, as he has actually begun playing up to the expectations with which he came to Wake. Desrosiers has also dramatically improved from his freshman season, although that could be that he no longer has to be the only competent big on the roster thanks to the development of Walker. Overall, I would consider this a positive part of the program, even if the development hasn't translated into more wins.
Recruiting (What We Need)
Looking historically, Wake has snagged very few blue chip recruits. By my count, four Wake players have ever played in the McDonald's All-America game (Loren Woods, Eric Williams, Chris Paul, Al-Farouq Aminu), which is approximately the number of McD AA's that ride Carolina's bench this season. Instead, Wake has had more success recruiting top 100 caliber players and then developing them. Justin Gray, Ish Smith, Jeff Teague, and James Johnson fit this mold, with McKie looking like the next in the line.
However, it's important to note that historically, two excellent players have not been enough to carry a Wake team. The Justin Gray-Eric Williams team in 2005-2006 finished 3-13 in conference. Instead, the development of role players is essential for team success. This requires general roster talent, either with specific roles for specific players or overall roster talent. And it is in this regard that Wake is most glaringly lacking. Part of the problem is the lack of depth mentioned above, which when combined with a lack of experience has largely proved fatal.
So, how do we fix this? Obviously an influx of more scholarship players next season will help. However, what should we expect from those incoming freshmen? CMM comes in as a top 100 recruit unanimously, and Arnaud Moto comes in as a top 100 recruit by some services. It's probably unfair to expect them to produce immediately, although I suspect that Moto in particular will get the chance to start (replacing Mescheriakov).
I think it's important to remember that these incoming players are generally 18-year-olds. It's important not to pin too many hopes on them. I liken recruits to a game of roulette. The best recruits give you better chances that they will pan out, and the range of their projected outcomes skews towards the star player range. Generally, you can count on these recruits to be productive contributors. Recruits in the bottom half of the top 100 have lesser chances of panning out, and their projected outcome varies from star to bust, with a concentration in the productive role player range. Lesser recruits can still produce positive outcomes, but are generally less likely to do so, and are significantly less likely to become stars. With this in mind, take a look at our last few recruiting classes, as rated by Rivals.
2006: (79) Anthony Gurley - transfer; (85) Jamie Skeen - productive role player, transfer; (128) Ishmael Smith - productive role player/all-ACC; (131) LD Williams - productive role player; (145) Chas McFarland - productive role player; (NR) Casey Crawford - transfer
2007: (57) Jeff Teague - all-ACC; (62) James Johnson - all-ACC; (147) Gary Clark - productive role player
2008: (7) Al-Farouq Aminu - all-America; (17) Ty Walker - largely a bust, recent productive role player; (20) Tony Woods -bust, transfer
2011: (NR) Chase Fischer - ???; (NR) Daniel Green - ???; (NR) Anthony Fields - ???
2012: (70) Cody Miller-McIntyre; (118) Arnaud Moto; (NR) Aaron Rountree; (NR) Devin Thomas; (NR) Tyler Cavanaugh; (NR) Andre Washington
The point of this is to show that, since 2006 or so, we've had extreme hit or miss luck on prospects. Yes, we've had a few players who were expected to be role players actually become role players, but mostly we've had players become stars either expectedly (Aminu) or unexpectedly (Teague and Johnson). On the other end, we've had two top 20 recruits do nothing (highly unlikely), and our crop of players that were supposed to have grown into the role player roles have almost all transferred out (Stewart, Terrell, Woods) or been busts (Tabb).
In short, recruiting is as inexact a science as there is. And we should all keep that in mind with our expectations tempered regarding the incoming class.