The Wake Forest Demon Deacons concluded non-conference play in style on Thursday evening when they thrashed the LSU Tigers, 110-76. With the win, the Deacs finished the non-conference portion of the schedule with a solid record of 9-3. Where do the Deacs stand headed into ACC play?
Wake Forest started the season ranked 76th nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s preseason ratings, which was good for 13th in the ACC - the same place the media predicted the Deacs to finish this season. Fast forward 6 weeks and the Deacs are now ranked 42nd nationally in Ken Pom, and 10th in the ACC. While 10th may not seem great initially, this conference is LOADED. The ACC features 4 of the top 8 teams in the country, and 8 of the top 28. How did Wake Forest move up so much?
Wake Forest has become an elite offensive team, as the Deacs are 20th nationally in offensive efficiency. To put that into perspective, Wake Forest finished 2014 and 2015 ranked 123rd and 132nd, respectively. John Collins has been a driving force behind the improved offensive efficiency. Devin Thomas was Wake’s premier post player over the past several seasons, but he never had an offensive rating better than 104.8. His senior season was the only year in which he had an offensive rating above 100, i.e. above average. John Collins has a stellar offensive rating of 121.9, and a massive usage rate. High usage & high efficiency is a deadly combo. He’s absolutely one of the best big men in the conference and the country.
Collins gets a lot of the attention, and we are certainly “guilty” of that here at Blogger So Dear, but Bryant Crawford has taken major steps forward as a sophomore. The former D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year had his flashes of brilliance last season, but he was also turnover prone and had below average efficiency because of the turnovers and him missing shots around the basket. Completely different story in 2016-2017. His turnovers are way down, his assists are way up, he’s making 58% of his shots from inside the arc, and now has an offensive efficiency of 119.7. That’s exactly what you want to see out of a lead ACC guard. I have said before that I believe that Bryant Crawford can be the best point guard in the ACC, and if he keeps playing like this then he will be.
Collins and Crawford have taken major steps forward, but that sophomore duo has also gotten excellent contributions from those around them. Keyshawn Woods sat out last season due to transfer rules, but he is now in the starting rotation. He isn’t as high usage of a player as Collins or Crawford, but he’s an outstanding shooter and can also create his own shot. Codi Miller-McIntyre did a lot of great things for Wake Forest, but he was simply unreliable from the perimeter. Woods is knocking down 50% of his threes, and is a huge help with floor spacing.
Wake doesn’t have as many skilled shooters as the United States Army, but there is still a wealth of shooting talent. Dinos Mitoglou had struggled prior to Thursday’s game, but the Greek Deac is now shooting 40% from the outside, and he is also doing a nice job of utilizing post ups on occasion. Austin Arians, the great grad transfer from Milwaukee, is making 42% of his threes. Mitchell Wilbekin’s ideal role is as a spot up shooter coming off the bench, which seems like it’s going to be his role for the rest of the season, and he is knocking down 41% of his shots from deep.
The Deacs don’t have the big brand name wins that they had last non-conference - Indiana, UCLA, Arkansas, and Ben Simmons University. However, this year’s team is winning games in convincing fashion - a better indicator of future success, and didn’t have to squeak out wins against the likes of Rutgers, UMBC, Bucknell, and Coastal Carolina.
Ken Pom projects that Wake Forest will finish the regular season 17-13 overall, including 8-10 in ACC play. The Deacs are projected to win outright against Clemson, Boston College (twice), Miami, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, and Pittsburgh. If Wake can take care of business in those home games, plus steal a few on the road (like this upcoming Wednesday against a solid FSU team), then Wake has the ability to be right in the thick of it to make the NCAA Tournament. In order to do that, I really hope that Doral Moore, Sam Japhet-Mathias, and Brandon Childress can step up as we get into conference play.
This team absolutely has the talent. I was definitely fooled last year, but the metrics weren’t. The metrics expected Wake to struggle in conference play, though not that much, but I didn’t want to believe them. This year there is a lot more reason for optimism. This team is much more talented, the ball actually moves on offense, and the defensive is definitely improving. It should be an exciting conference season. Go Deacs!