After the Wake-UNCW "game" (a phrase I use lightly because it wasn't a game, it was an exhibition for UNCW), it is more obvious than ever that Wake Forest basketball is a mess right now. After early season losses to Stetson, VCU, and Winthrop, the team rebounded nicely for wins against a Big 10 team in Iowa and two fairly bad teams in Marist and Holy Cross. I thought, perhaps, that the team had turned a corner and were ready to compete each and every night regardless of the opponent, but that appeared to not be the case on Sunday. The Deacs were outcoached, overmatched and generally gave little effort in what was now the fourth loss of the season to a team from a mid or low major conference.
Click through for more insight on the fallout from the Wake-Wilmington game...
Coach Bzdelik's quote in the post-game interview with Stan Cotten said it all. "I'm embarrassed for my school, I'm embarrassed for our fans, I'm embarrassed for anyone who's ever worn the Wake Forest jersey," Bzdelik remarked.
Perhaps he should have been embarrassed as well by the attitudes in the locker room after the game as well. Ty Walker said of his limited playing time in the second half, "I have no idea—I just didn’t, I have no explanation at all. I can’t read the coaches mind, so whatever he goes by I respect it to the best of my ability."
Freshman JT Terrell took another approach in the locker room after the game, declining to answer any questions from the press at all , which has become the subject of great debate to some Wake fans following beat writer Dan Collins' comments on the situation.
The focus on Wake's basketball season, which should be on the ineffectiveness of the team on both ends of the ball, has instead turned to a media circus surrounding the attitudes and comments of players on the team. There are many different things to look at when trying to place the source of the Deacs' problems, ranging from coaching, effort, and to some degree, attitude, but it is always disconcerting when there is more exciting news coming from the post game interviews and tirades from the bench than the actual game.
As for the game itself, Wake was overmatched from the beginning. For some inexplicable reason the Deacs decided to employ a half court trap which allowed the three-point shooting Seahawks to launch wide open threes throughout the first half to gain a ten point lead at the Greensboro Coliseum. Were it not for the effort of Gary Clark and Nikita Mescheriakov in the second half, the Deacons could have easily lost by 30 points, on a neutral court, to a team picked to finish last in the CAA.
Ari Stewart continues to take ill advised shots from 14-16 feet and appears to be more content to just settle into jumpers than to attack the basket with his bigger frame and more athletic skill set. On the bright side he does crash the boards hard and provide the Deacs with a steady flow of boards. He is the best defensive rebounder on the team, an area the team desperately needs to improve.
Ty Walker continues to display a low basketball IQ inside on both ends of the floor. He is a very good shot blocker (blocking 14.6% of all two-pointers attempted by the opposing team when he is on the floor), but does not know when to leave his man on the weak side to come help and when he needs to stay at home to box out. He appears to know HOW to box out, but does not box out and attempt to grab the ball at the same time. Several times during the Wilmington game he was caught boxing out his man to no direction in particular while the opposing rebounder would simply disengage and reach around Ty to grab the ball. On the bright side, he is in the right rebounding position a decent amount of the time; he just doesn't get the rebound. On the offensive side, he did have a couple of nice post moves inside in the first half and while the shots didn't fall, he is showing some improvement on that end.
The team showed a blatant lack of discipline, however, on both ends of the floor throughout the game on Sunday. On the defensive end everyone was just terrible. None of our guards bother to stick their hand in a shooter's face, even on the rare occasion when they were in the right position. At least a dozen or more times, UNCW simply had an uncontested three, and more times than not, they hit it as they were 14-27 from outside. The Deacons were also outrebounded in the first half by the Seahawks, an interesting note considering the Deacons started a 6'2" guard, a 6'4" guard, two 6'7" forwards, and a 7 footer, while Wilmington have exactly two players ON THE ENTIRE TEAM taller than 6'7".
On the offensive end, the Deacons were able to get some points early on from a half court offense, but as the game stretched on the Deacs were unable to get anything going. Freshman McKie struggled a bit during the game with only 8 points and 4 rebounds through 32 minutes, but certainly had some good bursts to the basket which just didn't fall once he got the layup off in traffic. Gary Clark hit his first four threes and displayed generally good effort throughout the game, and most of his missed shots came late when Wake just needed to get shots up in the final 5 minutes.
All-in-all, this was the most frustrating and disappointing game of the year so far. Wake Forest should never lose to Wilmington in basketball, and in fact it was the first time Wake had. The most concerning aspect of the season so far has to be that the team does not appear to be any better coached than it was last year. Dino was by most accounts not a fantastic coach, but his teams generally displayed effort, potential, and talent. This year's team is certainly young and, even if Bzdelik won't use that as an excuse, I will, but there is no excuse for a lack of effort and a lack of an identity on the floor.
Bzdelik was brought in as an X's and O's guy to help cultivate the young talent which Dino brought in with his final recruiting class, and I have not seen much improvement between the Stetson game and the Wilmington game. Minus two good halves (one against Elon, one against Iowa), the Deacs have been sloppy and have lost to three teams which they should never lose to. The VCU loss is moderately more acceptable, but it is still relatively frustrating to lose by 21 at home against a mid-major. Stetson and Winthrop aren't even mid-majors, they qualify as low majors, and despite the conference Wilmington plays in, you would be hard pressed to call the Seahawks a "mid-major" over the past few years.
The bleak outlook really just continues as the Deacs only have three more "gimme" games, tomorrow night against UNCG, next week against Presbyterian, and High Point on January 5th. Other than these three games, the Deacs face Richmond and Xavier on the road, Gonzaga at home, and have 16 conference games. Wake currently sits at 5-4 on the year and it appears we will struggle to even reach 10 wins on the year, something most Wake fans considered unthinkable even at the beginning of the year.
It is one thing to lose games and be relatively non-competitive in the conference season. It's an entirely other thing altogether to be non-competitive and get blown out by UNCW, VCU, Stetson, and Winthrop. This is not a playing problem, a coaching problem, or an administrative problem; this is a program-wide problem, and something has to change.