The Wake Forest Demon Deacons came to the Maui Invitational looking to win the tournament. While that did not happen, the Deacs still came away with two wins over signature programs, which is about as good of a consolation prize as one can get. What did we learn about the Wake Forest basketball team over the past three game?
Danny Manning has this team headed in the right direction
Wake Forest had been horrific on the road and in neutral site games under Jeff Bzdelik. To be frank, Manning was also winless in ACC road games last year, and also had a bad loss in the first round of the ACC Tournament. But this team seems different. This team started the year very short-handed. Codi Miller-McIntyre is still out with injury, while Rondale Watson and Cornelius Hudson were suspended for the first five games of the season. Despite this lack of depth, Wake earned a tough road win at Bucknell, and I firmly believe that experience prepared them for Maui.
What we witnessed wasn't exactly like the movie Hoosiers, but it was a gutsy effort. Manning just led a team that played Trent VanHorn more than 20 minutes per contest. Again, no offense to him, but he's a walk-on competing against 4-star recruits. That comes back to his mentality of not making excuses and knowing your role. Wake Forest played a walk-on nearly 30 minutes and beat #13 Indiana. Wake Forest, without either of their point guards, just beat a solid UCLA team. Wake doesn't do that last year. Not even close.
This team actually has a lot of good pieces, and is performing as well as Wake fans could have envisioned. We saw what Bryant Crawford did. Sure, he turns the ball over, but this guy can flat out play. John Collins was also huge for us.
Unbelievable job evaluating by Wake Forest's staff. Bryant Crawford & John Collins were not Top-50 players. Did they look it against IU?— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) November 24, 2015
It seems like every player Manning and his staff have recruited have performed above their recruiting ranking. That's a credit to this staff for identifying talent, securing that talent, and also developing the talent.
Danny Manning said that Cornelius Hudson would probably be the most improved player on this year's roster. While he certainly looked somewhat rusty against UCLA, there was noticeable improvement in his game. He's taller, stronger, more explosive, and a more complete player. I also have to give credit to Rondale Watson for his play. He looks like he's legitimately going to give Wake a spark off of the bench this year, which would be a welcomed surprise.
Last, but certainly not least, Devin Thomas has been sensational for Wake Forest this season. He has been very good during each of his three years on campus, but he is still much improved from a year ago. He is better at finishing around the basket, and is now becoming skilled with both hands.
Wake Forest now has very winnable games upcoming against Rutgers, Arkansas, UNC Greensboro, and Coastal Carolina. Wake could easily be sitting at 8-2 prior to a pivotal matchup against Xavier. By that point, Wake Forest will hopefully have Codi Miller-McIntyre back in the lineup. His presence takes Wake Forest to another level. Wake Forest took care of business in Maui, and has a legitimate opportunity for post-season play. This has a chance to be a fun basketball season.