So, in thinking about how to write this up. I figure I'm going to categorize it.as follows: Five Things We Know Are Good, Five Unanswered Questions, Five Things We Know Need Improving, and as usual, The Bottom Line. Let's get started, shall we?
Five Things We Know Are Good
1. Our Freshmen Are Going To Be Ballers. Bryant Crawford, John Collins, and Doral Moore are all showing really great potential. Actually, there are even rumblings that if Bryant Crawford continues to blow up, he might end up getting looks at the next level. They might be raw (which I'm going to get into), but their potential is without question. In terms of raw abilities, I think it's been quite a long time since we had a young core with this much talent. That much is most definitely exciting,
2. This Team Competes Against Anyone. There are only a couple of games I'd call blowouts. For the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to refer to a blowout as a game in which we weren't within single digits inside ten minutes, which I'd call a pretty good metric for a competitive game. If things are within single digits 30 minutes into the game, that's two teams going toe to toe. By that metric, there were only three blowouts all season: Vanderbilt, (neutral court), @UNC, and Syracuse. Every other game was definitely within reach, and considering the strength of our schedule, that's an upside.
3, The Team Showed Some Defensive Adjustments Later In The Year. Questions about coaching began to arise mid-ACC season, and while some questions definitely remain, the fact is that some things definitely changed for the better during the home stretch. The best example I can think of was the increased use of zone defense. Some may say it was too little too late, but there were definitely adjustments, and I was encouraged if nothing else.. I only hope the positive signs continue, but I'll get more into that later as well.
4. They Played As A Team. This sounds pedantic, but I really feel like more often than not, the individual players on the team really focused on the greater goal of winning the game. During the Boston College game, which I still consider by far the most enjoyable effort of the season, I didn't see anyone going into business for themselves. I saw a team full of guys who were genuinely excited for one another. That's the kind of thing that will carry over into future seasons.
5. We Can Really Move To A New Era. I'm going to miss Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre a lot. They are both great players and even better guys. They stuck with the program in a time of...well, suffering. They played hard every single night, and it's clear to me that they really worked hard to represent themselves and Wake Forest University extremely well. That being said, while they will be missed, and their departures will be felt by the program, their departures mark the true ending of the last era. Starting with next season, every player in the program will be Danny Manning recruits, That carries other implications, which I'll get into) but I'd call it a net plus. It'll feel like we're no longer transitioning, and are instead firmly in the Manning Era. To me, that's a positive.
Five Unanswered Questions
1. Will The Newcomers Be As Good As Advertised? On paper, the incoming freshmen (and transfer Keyshawn Woods) fill a lot of holes. Brandon Childress is a shooter and will be a backup point guard. You've got two swing men in Richard Washington Jr. and Keyshawn Woods, the latter of whom we have data on and we know he can shoot the rock. Donovan Mitchell is rangy, but shows a lot of potential as a stretch four. You can't say it's an all-star class, not even as good on paper as this year's. However, of the question marks about Danny Manning, the smallest is probably his eye for talent. It's hard to call two four star recruits like Bryant Crawford and Doral Moore steals per se, but they and John Collins certainly seem to already be performing like under-the-radar potential superstars. If this crew can do the same, we might be off to the races from a personnel standpoint, but it's impossible to know for sure just yet.
2. Is Danny Manning Learning, Stubborn, Or Both? There were, perhaps fairly, some questions about Coach Manning from an in-game standpoint several times during the year. There were questions about substitution patterns, defensive schemes, even the occasional clock management. Those were all valid questions, and still are, but as I said above, in my estimation, things got better down the stretch. It's easy to forget that much like our roster is young, Coach Manning is young and relatively inexperienced by the standards of a head coach. It would be at least a fair discussion to have about the possibility that Danny Manning is also learning how to be a head coach. Playing Devil's Advocate, even some of the greats had rough starts to their careers. There's also the far more concerning possibility that Coach Manning is stubborn, and that some of these "too little, too late" adjustments were born of the fact that Coach Manning was refusing to change things that needed changing. That would be a problem. Personally, I think the truth probably is somewhere in the middle. I firmly believe Coach Manning is a very confident and strong-willed coach, for better and for sometimes worse. I also believe, however, that there's no substitute for experience to some degree, and Coach Manning hasn't been a head coach for very long, and has been an ACC head coach for even less time. Unlike the coach of the last era, who was both older and had been a head coach longer, Coach Manning is a relative neophyte, which makes the hire both more of a gamble and more of a potential win. Only time will tell if, how, and in which ways Coach Manning will evolve and grow alongside his young team.
3. Who Is Dinos? Konstantinos Mitoglou is a great guy. That is absolutely without question. He also seems like the consummate teammate, humble, and good-spirited. He seems grateful for Wake Forest, the fans, and the opportunities he has to be a Division I basketball player. None of that is the confusing part with Dinos. His freshman year, he was getting huge levels of hype, such that coming into this year there were rumblings that NBA Scouts were also curious about him as a prospect. This year, however, his three point shooting percentage dropped by the better part of 7% on a virtually identical number of attempts, from 38.5% to 32.3%. That's a substantial dropoff, and I'm curious to see if this sophomore slump changes next season.
4. Can We Replace CMM And Devin? Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas, two major pieces of the last four seasons, are both gone. It's debatable to what extent, or even if at all, we'll be able to quickly replace their absences. Regardless, arguments to both sides could be made, and it's most definitely an unanswered question. Only time will tell, and I could easily see things going either way.
5. Near Misses And Early Successes: Fool's Gold And Moral Victories, Or Glimpses Into A Brighter Future? Our early season was pretty awesome. We had wins against Indiana and UCLA on semi-away (effectively road) games, an absolute first half trouncing of Xavier, who has emerged as a top ten team in the nation. We also beat LSU on the road. Then the ACC season started, and woof. I've been over this some already, but honestly, it is a gigantic question of just how much of that early season was overachieving and anomalous, and just how much of it was an honest glimpse into the program's future. If the latter (which I tend to lean towards), we'll be alright in the end.
Five Things We Know Need Improving
1. Free Throw Shooting. Our shooting from the line cost us several games, and there's no excuse for that. Free throws are the only things in basketball that have nothing at all to do with athletic ability and purely with concentration and skill.
2. Bryant, Cut Down On The Flash. In any skilled basketball player, a little bit of flash is good, maybe even borderline necessary for greatness. At any level, there are only a handful of all-time greats I wouldn't consider at all flashy. Funnily enough, one of them is our very own Tim Duncan. Either way, flash isn't inherently a sin in sports, and can even be a positive, getting fans and teammates hyped up and more invested in the game. Any coach at any level would probably tell you "highlight plays" have value in the game. That being said, Bryant Crawford, as high as I am on him, is a little too eager to make the highlight plays, and his turnover numbers reflect that. Hopefully he strikes a better balance between fundamentals and flash as he matures, because if he does, look out.
3. We Need Shooters. Now, if there's good news, I firmly believe the team did a good job of running offensive sets to get the ball to open shooters. But those open shots didn't usually get knocked down. It could be Dinos re-emerging. It could be Chill. It could be Keyshawn Woods. Ideally, all three. But boy howdy do we need shooters.
4. We Need To Be Locked In. There were stretches this season that were sincerely some of the best basketball that I personally have ever seen at Wake Forest (the first half of Xavier springs to mind, since that was trouncing of legitimate competition). But try as we might, except against BC, we could just never play 40 minutes of basketball. That needs to change.
5. We Need To Finish. This is an amalgam of 1-4, and some of the unanswered questions working in concert, but we need to finish. Being competitive is great, but yes, we need to actually WIN, and there's no reason we shouldn't have won at least a few more games over the course of the season. If we don't get better at closing games out, it could spell trouble for the Manning regime.
The Bottom Line
A frustrating season. A rightfully concerning season in some ways. But I think we would do well to remember that one of the reasons this season did hurt so badly is precisely because of how much better it was. It wasn't devoid of hope or promise, and that was the agony of it all. However, I personally believe that that hope and promise is a seed that will grow. I think comparing our season to Virginia Tech's is a little disingenuous, but I'll save that for possibly another offseason piece. I think comparing this season to any of the previous regime's in any things other than black and white win loss record and/or free throw percentages is both disingenuous and excessive doomsaying. I'm still disappointed in some ways, but as of this writing, I still think Danny Manning is the man for the job.
This season was an exercise in confusion, frustration, alarming collapses. wasted potential, but also excitement, growth, and reasons for hope. We'll see what the future brings. I could be wrong and made a fool of. Maybe this season is as good as it's going to get. Maybe wee're not on the right path. However, I did make a lot of accurate predictions this season, even with regards to failures, so who knows? Maybe I'll be right in the end. Either way, I'm darn sure excited to find out, which isn't something I've been able to say in a while.
Barring an Earth-shattering ACC Tournament run, that's pretty much all the wrote for this season. Thanks to any and all of you who came on this journey with me this season. Much love to you all, whether you agreed or disagreed, thought me a genius or a fool. Without you guys, I wouldn't be here.
On to the next, whenever that is. Go Deacs.