On Thursday, Martin, Bart, Rob and myself got together to talk a little bit of basketball. By a little bit, I mean we hammered out about 10 single spaced pages of thoughts on the state of Wake Forest basketball and where it's going in the future.
We published Part I when we got done talking,but due to expansion news and the Wake-State coverage, we wanted to wait to publish Part II on a day when it wouldn't get lost in the shuffle. Without further ado, here is Part II, and we hope you all enjoy reading it as much as we had talking it.
Second half of the discussion after the jump...
We pick back up after Martin talked about where we were in comparison to others in the ACC...
Riley: We are going to get back to where we were win-wise under Coach Prosser and Coach Gaudio, and I think we can do it over the next 3-5 years honestly. My projections from the start were a 4 year plan for Coach Bzdelik (which I think every coach should be given by the way). Last year was going to terrible no matter how you sliced it after the departures and dismissals from the team, so it was essentially a throwaway. Could it have gone better? Of course, we won 8 games and got embarrassed on and off the court, but it's in the past. Moving towards this year, I thought an improvement of 4-6 games would be the next step. It certainly seems like we are on that path, and I think we will reach the 13-14 win mark, which is right in that 5-6 range. Next year, with a depth infusion, and key players at positions that we really need (PG and interior offense/rebounding), I see another 4-6 win leap and an NIT berth. I really don't think that's too big of a quantum leap and it isn't too far out there. The loss of CJ after next year will hurt a lot, and hopefully we will have somebody to step in there that can pick up the scoring and leadership. I think the 4th year will be the NCAA Tournament year (barring no injuries or anything like that). Given all that has transpired on and off the court, I don't think that this laid out plan would warrant too much criticism from even the most ardent "Buzz-Outers".
Robert: I would say we should get to 19 or 20 wins next season. I think we would beat Wofford, and that we would also be favored to beat teams like Dayton and Arizona State. Then moving onto the ACC, it will depend on how the schedule works out, but I'd expect us to pick up wins against teams like Miami, Clemson, Maryland, and Georgia Tech. But you certainly bring up a great point about Austin Rivers. I feel better about it though in that we aren't depending on one, we are depending upon a group of Freshmen. Also, since our offense relies more on ball movement than driving action, I think that should be to our benefit.
Martin: Freshmen take time to pick up a motion offense. High school offenses aren't that complicated. And Bzdelik has not shown a propensity to adapt to his personnel. He wants them to adapt to him. There is going to be a lot of ugly basketball from the kids as they learn to play at the next level. I think 19 wins is an unrealistic expectation, and if the fan base at large is hoping for that, they're going to be disappointed next year. This team will have the depth, but not the experience to win 19-20 games. A good comparison is Virginia Tech's team this year. Our makeup next year will be very similar to that.
Bart: I think 19-20 wins is probably unrealistic for next year, but if it happened I would be absolutely thrilled and absolutely a supporter of Bzz. I thought we actually did a decent job hanging with UNC the other night. A lot of it had to do with Carolina missing a ton of open shots, but we were missing open shots too. Bzdelik slowed the game down and we played our pace instead of UNC's up-tempo pace. It's games like those where I believe that if we can get a decent set of skill guys in to help out the current couple of guys we have who can get to the basket, score, dribble without turning the ball over, and rebound that we can get a good offensive output from Bzdelik's system. My biggest complaint so far like I mentioned earlier, is the lack of offensive identity. I don't mind running the clock down to keep possessions longer and make fewer opportunities for other teams to score, but I don't think Bzdelik is running an offense that our players are suited for. I also think it will take freshmen a while to learn his system.
Riley: I just disagree with the two of you on how many wins are possible next year. If you look at what we have this year in terms of lack of offensive firepower, and you add in another year for CJ, Travis, and Chase primarily, plus CMM and the other 5 guys, it is certainly worth at least 4-6 wins in my opinion.
Martin: I just think we could have done better. Whether or not we play well under Bzdelik isn't the ultimate bottom line for me; it's that he never should have been hired here in the first place. It was a bad hire. I hope he does well, but it was an extremely high risk, low reward hire, and one Wake Forest could not afford to make coming off of a year in which they won an NCAA Tournament game. The other worry I have is about whether or not Jeff Battle sticks around after this year. He is Wake's main recruiter (and the biggest reason for the 2012 class among many others), and I get the feeling with his kid graduating high school, now might finally be his time to part ways and take another gig. These kinds of things keep me up at night, on top of being on our way to another sub-.500 season and being under 200 in the KenPom ratings. Wake Forest should never be 200+ in KenPom, much less two years in a row. It's like a bad dream. The fall was Sophoclesian in nature. I really haven't seen anything like it with any other team.
Bart: I don't agree with the hire either and I agree that it has poisoned the well for a lot of fans with regards to how people feel about him, but the fact remains that it's a sunk cost at this point and he is here. I'm trying to remain positive and look forward to what COULD be accomplished under Bzdelik so the bottom line for me remains if we play well or not. I agree with a lot of what you've said Marty, but it is what it is. We can only go forward.
Riley: I think your last two sentences there key in on my thoughts towards the situation Bart. Of course we could have done better. Nobody was happy with the hiring of Jeff Bzdelik. Absolutely nobody. I hate to say that about the situation, as well as Jeff Bzdelik as a man, but given the situation at the time Wake fans thought they were getting a young, energetic coach, and instead we got Jeff Bzdelik. It was a calculated risk for Ron Wellman, and I think he hired the process very poorly. I actually feel bad for Coach Bzdelik because he has been getting a TON of unwarranted criticism from people. There are plenty of things to point at in his coaching past to criticize if needed instead of his family, clothing choices, car choices (the Prius isn't even his), and mannerisms on the sideline.
I disagree with you Marty on yours thoughts about the bottom line too. Ultimately, the bottom line IS how much he wins during his time here. It is obvious that he is going to run a high character program, which is great to see. It is unknown how much he will win here, and that is really all that matters in the long run.
Martin: It's a philosophical construct in some regards. You can't ignore the past, but you can't dwell on it, either. On Groundhog Day of all days, that's a good point to mention. You know, ouroboros, Nietzschean resentment, et al.
Robert: Maybe I'm naive, but I don't see where else he would go at this point. I'm sure you'll argue well isn't it telling that other schools wouldn't hire him after this. I really believe next year is going to be a solid year and that Bzdelik is a much better recruiter than he got credit for prior to arriving at Wake Forest. He was able to identify players like CMM and Rountree before others took notice. I love his work ethic and would not trade him right now. Personally, I would love to play for him. I think it's unfair to dump the 200+ KenPom ratings on him since he inherited it. It's absolutely fair to place that blame on Dino. Maybe I'm being a homer and maybe I'm going on gut and not facts, but I have an outstanding belief that Wake will be right again next year. I really think Bzdelik will be viewed very differently come February 2, 2013.
Martin: I agree you have to go forward, and I have done that in a lot of respects this season. I haven't thought much about the eight-win season at all, almost to a fault. Like you mentioned, I almost forget just how bad the team really was. I'm assessing this year as its own year, so by doing that, I still see many flaws, and many problems completely independent of last year. But, I'm a Cleveland fan, so I know the danger of consistently waiting til next year. It becomes a trap mentality after awhile. Next year often never comes.
Bart: Yeah, the ouroboros in particularis good to keep in mind: things are cyclical and Wake basketball will rise again. We just need to sit through the bad times and get back to the good. We are still a good program in a good conference and we can get recruits to come here. With some good recruits, we get wins, and the fans come back. The question is will this success be with or without Bzdelik, in spite of or due to Bzdelik? We really don't know at this point. I say we should cut our losses after next year if things are bad again, but I know others will disagree
Riley: I have been a bit contradictory in what I would "tolerate" going forward. I do agree that nearly all coaches should get four years to prove themselves, but if we are still stalling around 13-15 wins next year then I'm not sure how Ron Wellman could possibly give him an extension (I believe it was a three year deal initially). So that will be interesting anyway given that a strong percentage of Wake fans already want him out, and even if he does win 18 games next year, would not want that contract extension given.
Martin: If everything is cyclical, then what is the harm in letting him go after this year (again, merely playing contrarian here)? Would cutting it off at the head for a more productive, younger, more energetic coach be a calculated risk? Or does this present a Hydra in which more problems sprout up and a wholly other myriad of problems take its place? Simply put: Is Jeff Bzdelik the right coach for Wake Forest? Will he be a long-term solution? If the answer to either of those two questions is no, why delay the inevitable?
Bart: It depends on what you mean by long-term. I don't mean to argue semantics, but if you mean 10 years at Wake period then no, but I could see him being here 4 more years if next year's recruiting class pans out
I will say however that I want the next coach to be a young and energetic hire. If that flops at least there is an attempt at trying to find the "next Coach K" which ultimately is what teams in power conferences SHOULD in my opinion be looking to do
Riley: I think that Jeff Bzdelik is the right coach for Wake Forest right now. While I did disagree with the hiring process and who the end result was at the time, I believe that Coach Bzdelik will get this ship righted and lay an excellent foundation going forward for our basketball program. I have no idea whether or not he will be a long-term solution. People cite his age (57/58), but that is clearly not a problem because he can coach well into his 70's if he wanted to. He looks great, exercises, and honestly I would peg him for 45-50 if I saw him on the street. In the very least I think he will be a transition coach that got us pointed in the right direction for the next "home run" hire.
Robert: I believe he will coach the 2012 class through graduation if given the opportunity. I also think he's the right coach for the program. He really embraces Wake Forest and I think he's great for the community. After Bzdelik, if we are unable to get an incredibly established coach, then I say take a chance on trying to find the next Coach K as Bart just said.
Martin:I appreciate your outlook, Rob, despite disagreeing. It is interesting to see how different our viewpoints are, while our zeal for Mother So Dear is entirely comparable.
Robert: At the end of the day it's all about the love of our Deacs. I know we both want what's best for our program and we're all abou the Black and Gold. Whenever we're good again, I don't think any of us will be saying 'I told you so', we'll be saying 'Damn is it good to be good again.'
Martin: We are 11-11 and the calendar has turned to February. As we wind down the chat, what do each of you see out of the team for the stretch run? What are your expectations and goals for the last month-plus of the season?
Riley: My expectations primarily are just to be competitive in every single game. We have had problems consistently playing to the best of our potential this year because we often take plays off in transition defense and get beat for rebounds. Given the talent level on our team (not meant to bash anybody, just stating my opinion), we cannot afford to take plays off and expect to win games. There are some winnable games coming up. We travel to Raleigh and UVA on Saturday and the middle of next week, and despite what some people think about UVA, that is likely our toughest game yet from a win % perspective. I would like to avenge our loss to State at the Joel, but don't think that's likely, so if we can play well in stretches and cut into that 36 point deficit from last time then it would be nice. After that we have Clemson and GT at home, and I think we have to take at least one of those two, and really could take both of them. We go to Miami after that (likely loss), then have BC at the Joel (likely win). That would put us at 4-10 in the conference with Duke and @GT left. Maybe we steal that win @GT and push it to 5-11. So I'll go with 5-11 there because I think we either beat both GT/Clemson at home, or beat GT on the road. That would put us at 14-16 (5-11), which would be a 6 game improvement from last year, and a 4 game in-conference improvement. I would be pretty happy with that honestly.
Robert: Goal number one has to be to beat Boston College at home. We beat them by 15 at BC, and it will be a huge disappointment if we don't take care of business at home. Number two has to be to win at least one of the two home games between Clemson and Georgia Tech. I also expect us to be competitive at Georgia Tech and in the first round of the ACC Tournament. If we do those things and end up with at least 4 conference wins, then I'll be satisfied with this season.
Bart: I think Wake is going to end the year around 13-17 (4-12) with home wins over Boston College and Georgia Tech. My expectation is to see the offense that we've been attempting to run over the previous month or so continue to be established and worked upon. I don't particularly like the offense, but if Bzdelik thinks it will work let's see if he can get this group of guys worked into it. If we lose at home to Boston College barring any other upsets, I would be extremely deflated and down on the season moving into next year. I would like to see us be competitive in the first round of the ACC tournament and perhaps grab me my one and only ACC tourney win in my four undergrad years. On a neutral court there is no reason to believe Wake can't beat a Clemson or Maryland type team in one game. If we end the year 14-18 I will be content that we showed some improvement and ability down the stretch. People might call that LOWF, but having watched us play all year I just call it realistic
Martin: Well, this was certainly educational and informative, and I thank you guys for taking the time to get together. Hopefully the second half of the ACC season brings more positives than negatives, and we can storm right on past Austin Peay. Thanks again, gentlemen.
Riley: Thanks a lot guys. I miss getting together and talking basketball with all of us! Let's make it sooner next time!.
Bart: Thanks for your time and I hope we get to talk again soon, under slightly better circumstances. As always, go Deacs!
Robert: Gotta impeach the Governors. Love the conversation, and Go Deacs!