As I sit in my man-cave watching the last of this week's winter weather dump snow onto my backyard, I survey the neighborhood and remember why I love snow. The all-white landscape and unequivocal quiet gives the area a pristine feel, almost like a clean slate for this collection of homes and people.
On January 25th of this year, that's almost where coach Jeff Bzdelik and the Wake Forest Demon Deacon basketball team stood, albeit in a basketball sense. The Deacs were 14-6 and had just defeated Notre Dame at home, 65-58. More important, Wake Forest had gone on the road earlier in the week and came away with a 83-77 victory that really wasn't as close as the final score indicated. The times, it seemed, were a-changin'.
Up next was a visit from then-No. 2 Syracuse on national television, a challenge the Deacs seemed poised and ready to accept and perhaps even overcome. A loss to the Orange would not be the end of the world, but a win would signal the resurgence of the once-proud Demon Deacon basketball team. The preseason promises of experience, depth and toughness were all coming to fruition, as the Deacons had handled most of the adversity they had been dealt. This was especially true on their home court, where they were 10-0 for the season.
As it turns out, January 25th was the last time the Deacs won a game- home or away. They followed up a 67-57 loss to the Orange with a head-scratching 79-70 home loss to Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets had already lost multiple key players coming into the game, and then lost point guard Trae Golden minutes into the opening half. The Deacs' best player, guard Codi Miller-McIntyre, injured his ankle in the closing seconds of the first half and the team imploded from there. That loss was followed by a 83-63 loss at Duke that featured a valiant effort from Madison Jones and Miles Overton- and little else.
Bzdelik and Co. then had 7 days to prepare for their return matchup with N.C. State, whom the Deacs had beaten on a gutsy drive from Miller-McIntyre that instantly pumped the word "Euro-step" into the vocabulary of Tie Dye Nation. The Pack have been hot as of late, but obviously with a week to prepare and heal one believed the Deacs would give State their best shot. Especially since, well, that's what you expect losers of three straight games to do.
And they didn't. At least I hope that wasn't their best shot. T.J. Warren scored 34 points against the Deacs, as the Wolfpack shot a whopping 52.5 percent from the floor, including 44.4 from three- which is something, considering that they are RANKED DEAD LAST IN THE ACC in three-point field goal percentage.
I'm sorry, did I shout?
Since I've joined Blogger So Dear, I've been called quite a few things on Wake message boards and the like. Some things are repeatable on this forum, some are not. Some things are accurate, and some are not. For instance, I'm not on the Wake Forest payroll. I've asked SID Steve Shutt multiple times where my check is, and he can't find it. So, no, I'm not. I'm also not "BzIn" although many readers believe that I'm a staunch defender of the embattled coach (I have been accurately portrayed as a "townie" and I am also balding).
To be fair, I'm not "BzOut", either. I'm "WakeIn" and "CommonSenseIn". I think that's more accurate.
So with all that clarified for you, let me opine that the Georgia Tech and N.C. State debacles tell me two things: one, the Wake Forest season is once again in free-fall and two, this Wake team is too talented to underachieve at this level. I gave last year a pass simply because of youth. Not anymore. And quite frankly, there are signs that the white flag is getting ready for an unfurling of epic proportions.
Now, I could be wrong. I hope I'm wrong, because I've yet to talk to any bad folks in the program. I like it when good things happen to good people. The kids are great. But reality says they will probably need 4-5 wins out of their last 7 to make the NIT field. Based on the level of the opponent and the, ahem, venue for the game I find it highly unlikely that will happen.
And if it doesn't, then there is a choice to make at Wake Forest.
You either give the head coach the last year of his contract to somehow fix the problems that have plagued these last two teams, or you reboot and find a new captain to steer this talented sophomore class through the last two years of their eligibility. Is that an oversimplification? Probably, if you're a fan or interested alumnus. But then again, if it's all about what is best for Wake Forest, how much longer can you afford to wait with your athletic cornerstone crumbling?
Jeff Bzdelik was given a tough job. He and his staff have Wake Forest basketball in a better place than it was three years ago, culturally. Basketball-wise, in the new era of the expanded ACC, it is not. it's time for Wake Forest to ascend back to its Big Four status, and culture will only get you halfway there.