The ups and downs that Wake Forest basketball coach Dino Gaudio has experienced throughout the past three years have been plentiful. We all know how close Coach Gaudio was to Skip Prosser and about the tough times that the Wake family experienced when trying to make the difficult transition after Prosser's passing.
Ultimately, Dino got the Demon Deacons back to number one in the nation this season before the disastrous finish in which they lost the opening game in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments despite being heavily favored in both. This has left the Wake Forest fanbase with many different reactions and opinions regarding the leader of the Deacs.
The first question that I would like to address is whether Wake should fire Coach Gaudio. While there were sure to be knee-jerk reactions after the pathetic performance in the NCAA tournament, I simply say that there is no way Wake should or will be searching for a new coach this off-season. Aside from the rest of the analysis that I am about to present, the simple facts are that firing a coach that led his team to a number one ranking and to victories over the two ballyhooed teams down Tobacco Road in just his second season would raise serious questions about the sanity and expectations that the Wake Forest athletic department has for our basketball program.
Who on Earth would want to coach the Deacs if they knew the pressure and expectations to succeed would be that high? I'm not saying he did everything right, but aside from a Dino resignation, he is going to be here at least one more season and probably more like two or three more seasons. Finally, I want to note that I, for one, do not believe it is fair to lump Skip's results with Dino's results. They are different coaches with different coaching philosophies, so it is not fair to Dino to combine the postseason results of the Prosser era with his own results.
Now onto more specific items. I would like to begin with where I would like to see improvements in the future and work toward the positives that Dino has brought to the program.
Improvements to be made
One of the biggest problems with Wake basketball over the past few years is the lack of a structured, disciplined half-court offense. The Deacs often look fantastic when they get out and run, but when teams slow it down the offense often looks downright pathetic. The team seems to depend on one-on-one playmakers instead of off-the-ball movement, screens and sharp cuts that could often lead to easy baskets. Of course, the lack of shooters that the Deacs' possess makes it a little tougher to get these easy looks, but there are several missed opportunities regardless.
In a related issue, the collective basketball IQ of our team is sometimes very low. I understand that this is more of a player issue than a Dino issue, but I feel that he could put them in better positions to score and have harsher consequences for making stupid plays. For instance, Wake Forest had a clear height advantage against Cleveland State, but the number of post entry passes was strikingly low. Off the top of my head I remember just two, one to Weaver (missed off the front of the rim) and one to Chas (stepped out of bounds).
While I know that James Johnson has not posted up much all year, I feel that he and Aminu could have done great damage against the frontcourt of the Vikings. I feel certain that their moves on the blocks are quicker, stronger and more skillful than those of McFarland and Weaver.
Also, bad shots and unforced errors should face consequences. While Dino is known to be a screamer at practice, he rarely gets animated on the sidelines unless it is directed at an official. A little tough love during games would have been nice to see, especially after watching Jeff Teague throw the ball away seven times, not be aggressive and still play 37 minutes.
The final issues that I have are with game management and media relations. Game management is often the toughest adjustment to make from being an assistant coach to becoming a head coach. Roy Williams still faces criticism about his unwillingness to call timeouts during runs by the opponent and I think this is something Dino needs to work on as well. In my opinion, he often called timeouts one or two possessions too late instead of nipping the problem in the bud before the other team was able to build momentum and a sizable lead.
After watching Trent Johnson of LSU work his timeouts to perfection in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, I became aware of just how important it is to use your TO's effectively. Now I do not want him to go into Pete Gillen mode and use all our timeouts before the under-eight media timeout, but a little better usage would be nice. Additionally, the ever-discussed substitution pattern of Dino also could use a little work, but I do not have as many problems here as most people. I would like to see the starters play more minutes together other than at the beginning of each half, but foul trouble and poor execution by the players often forces Dino to move to a slightly different approach as the game progresses.
The media issue is an issue that has just been born recently after the collapse. Previously, I was more than satisfied with what Coach Gaudio said to the media. However, lately he has been a little too open instead of playing the situation close to vest. After both postseason loses he was a little too optimistic and positive considering the circumstances and seemed to be clueless when asked to diagnose the problems with our performances. The fans need to feel like Dino understands and has a hold on the situation and these types of quotes do not help us feel secure about the future of Wake basketball.
From the view from 20,000 feet, Dino has accomplished quite a lot since becoming the main man at Wake Forest. After disaster struck, Dino was able to regain control and keep Wake's highly regarded recruiting class (AT&T) and the freshman class that consisted of Teague, Johnson and Clark. After an inconsistent first year in which the Deacs finished 7-9 in conference (the same record that NCAA tourney-bound Maryland had this year), Dino and company jumped out to a fast start in their second season and reached number one in the nation by January.
Anyone who says they saw those results coming earlier is lying. While he may not have success in the post season so far, we know Dino can get it done in big-game situations, as evidenced in the showdowns with Duke, UNC, Clemson and BYU this season. You do not consistently win games against teams of that caliber unless you have excellent play on the court and good strategy and preparation coming into the game.
The most surprising aspect of the turnaround was Dino's intense focus on defense, which was a huge deficiency during the Prosser years. Coach Gaudio began to implement coach Tony Bennett's pack defense in his first year and saw big returns from it in year two. In fact, Wake Forest finished second in the ACC in field goal percentage defense and first in three-point percentage defense. This allowed the Deacons to win games in which their offense was not necessarily clicking that would likely have been lost in previous years.
On top of this, Wake Forest also finished second in the conference in rebounding margin and rebounding offense due to Coach Gaudio's emphasis on these aspects and the overall height and athleticism of this team. We know Skip would have been proud of those numbers.
Another great aspect that Dino and staff brings to the table is recruiting. The guys he retained have already been mentioned, but the classes he is bringing in look to be strong as well. Next year is guard heavy, as Gaudio was able to reel in recent state champions and top 100 players in C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart.
Moreover, he was finally able to reel in an outside shooter in Norway's Torgrim Sommerfeldt. The class of 2010 already looks to be a great, balanced class and includes guards Tony Chennualt and J.T. Terrell as well as face up forward Melvin Tabb. Wake is also in the mix for a couple elite players to add to this class, including versatile small forwards Travis McKie, Casey Prather and Reco McCarter as well as transfer candidate Seth Curry.
Overall, I feel that while Coach Gaudio does have plenty to learn after two seasons at the helm, he has done a good job and got the program back to being nationally relevant quicker than most people expected after Coach Prosser's untimely death. Depending on the NBA decisions of Jeff Teague, Al-Farouq Aminu and James Johnson, Wake has the chance at another good season in 2009-2010.
While Dino has shown he can get it done in the regular season, he will ultimately need some postseason success to stay off the hot seat over the next couple seasons. I sincerely hope he will be able to correct some of these issues and get more of the fanbase back on his side.
Prove 'em wrong, Dino.