The Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 81-74 on Sunday night. This was despite it being Wake Forest's senior night and the Deacs being a 4-point favorite. Upsets happen, but last night was about more than just one game. It was about two programs going going in opposite directions.
Virginia Tech hired Buzz Williams in March of 2014. The former Marquette head coach inherited a program that went just (9-22, 2-16) during the 2013-2014 season, and finished the season ranked 192nd in Ken Pom. During Buzz Williams' first season in Blacksburg, the Hokies were one of the youngest teams in the country, and finished (11-22, 2-16) and 184th in Ken Pom. We all remember the team's tight win over Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament. This year, Buzz Williams is working his magic. He has the Hokies at 16-13 overall, and 8-8 in ACC play. They aren't overly talented, but they play very hard, and are currently 89th in Ken Pom.
Wake Forest hired Danny Manning in April of 2014. He took over for Jeff Bzdelik, who was not exactly the most admired man in Wake Forest history. During Bzdelik's final season at Wake Forest, the Deacs went 17-16, including 6-12 in ACC play, and finished 118th in Ken Pom. Manning's first season at the helm involved a fairly serious roster turnover, though he did retain Codi Miller-McIntyre as well as Devin Thomas. Considering the circumstances, he put together a strong 2014 recruiting class.
In Manning's first season with the Deacons, he went 13-19 overall, and 5-13 in ACC play. The team finished 124th in Ken Pom, but the team showed promise. Wake Forest had been dreadful on the road under Bzdelik, and Manning had his team playing hard on the road in most situations. That, combined with a very good 2015 recruiting class, had fans encouraged for this season.
Wake Forest started off very hot, and went 9-3 against a very difficult non-conference schedule, and this was without Codi Miller-McIntyre, Cornelius Hudson, and Rondale Watson for stretches of that schedule. ACC play hit, and Wake played a great game (thought it was a loss) at Louisville, then fell apart late at home against Duke, before beating N.C. State at home and keeping NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Wake Forest then went to Blacksburg to face the Virginia Tech Hokies, and lost despite shooting 59% from the field. That was game 1 of Wake Forest's 11-game losing streak, which was only snapped because they played Boston College at home.
The Deacs are now just 11-18 overall, including just 2-15 in ACC play, and will almost definitely lose at Duke on Tuesday night. The Deacs are 135th in Ken Pom despite returning nearly everyone, and adding a top 30 recruiting class. Barring a major upset, Danny Manning is going to be 0-18 on the road in ACC play. He won a number of impressive road/neutral site games in non-conference, but that has not translated to the conference season.
The team's turnover rate has somehow gotten worse from last season, and has gone from being horrific at forcing turnovers, to being one of the worst teams in the country at forcing turnovers. The team has the second least efficient offense in the conference, as well as the second least efficient defense in the conference (in terms of conference only statistics). Not exactly a winning combination. There are just fundamental things that the team can, but does not do.
The team had the 137th "best" defensive efficiency in the country last season, and this season is down to 161st. That simply should not happen, and is unacceptable. Teams with ACC athleticism should never be that bad at defense. Not only that, it's year two of the defensive system, and the team added athleticism to the roster. It truly is incomprehensible. Wake is 235th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, which should not happen given Wake's size.
In today's college basketball landscape, a coach can quickly transform a program. Year one for Manning was a mild success, while year two has been a major disappointment. In year three, Manning will have a roster almost entirely of his own players. The team should be better from the outside, which could solve a lot of Wake's offensive problems, but that still won't address the defensive issues. Manning and his staff have time to correct this downward trend, but Wake Forest fans should be concerned.