The season, as most seem to do in the NCAA Tournament, ended abruptly for Wake Forest last night in a 95-88 loss to Kansas State in the First Four.
This year was a step towards getting the Demon Deacons back to respectability on a national stage, but there are several deficiencies that need to be addressed too, primarily on the defensive side of the ball.
Regardless of what sophomore sensation John Collins decides to do, next year will be the first year in a long time that Wake Forest has talent and experience on its roster.
Obviously there is a long way to go before the 2018 season tips-off, but over the next few weeks the roster will begin to take shape. I do not wish to speculate about potential transfers from players currently on the roster because I don’t possess any inside information, and Wake Forest also has an open scholarship already to go after any grad transfer they want to pursue.
That being said, the transfer rates are extremely high right now in college basketball, so it would also be foolish to assume that everybody is coming back as well.
Let’s take a look at some (way too early) pressing concerns and questions for the 2018 season. Keep in mind that a lot, if not all of this could change between now and August, so it’s really more of an overview of what the team could look like given the pieces we currently have.
Who (if anybody) will declare for the NBA Draft?
Collins will almost certainly declare for the NBA Draft to utilize the new rules that allow players to at least get evaluated by teams before making a decision as to whether or not to return to school.
It would also not surprise me at all if Bryant Crawford took advantage of that rule and at least put himself out there to be looked at and gather information.
I highly doubt that he will stay in the Draft, as it would behoove him to at least guarantee a First Round draft pick if he is planning to leave early. I believe another year in Winston-Salem will do just that for him.
Remember—-just because a player declares for the NBA Draft does not mean they are going to leave. I don’t think it is a large stretch to believe both Collins and Crawford will go down this path, so don’t freak out if you hear about this happening in the upcoming weeks.
Other than that I believe everybody else is at least a year away, and will be on the roster next year unless they decide to transfer.
Who will step up and grab available playing time?
Looking at the rest of the roster, there are a few guys who saw limited minutes this year and it’s unclear what their roles will be next year. Freshmen Donovan Mitchell and Richard Washington both saw very little playing time, and this summer is vital to their development to see if they will be contributors moving forward under Coach Manning.
The center spot is also (more than likely) up for grabs. Who will emerge out of Doral Moore and Samuel Japhet-Mathias either as the starting center and heir apparent to John Collins? If he comes back, then who will become the primary backup to Collins?
SJM seemingly passed Moore late in the year for the backup minutes at center. Will that hold true through the off-season? That’s a vital position battle to watch, and big shoes to fill.
There is a lot of young talent on the roster that didn’t get in a ton of games this year, and the minutes are there for the taking. I’m eager to see who is talented enough to make the leap and become a role/situational player for next year.
What will the staff look for in the Grad Transfer Market?
If John Collins stays then there is probably little need for a grad transfer, unless Coach Manning can find somebody to replace the role that Austin Arians played at the 3-4 position.
If Collins leaves then there will be a pretty big need for a bruiser inside who can rebound and play some defense. That would allow the Deacs to go small ball at times, and also have somebody who can take care of the dirty work down low.
In an ideal world, SJM or Moore could fulfill this role, but that’s up to Coach Manning as to whether or not they are ready to do so.
Right now there aren’t a ton of guys out there who have declared their intent to transfer for their final year, but as that picture becomes clearer we will cover it when the time comes.
What will the starting lineup look like?
Once again, this is highly contingent on what Collins decides to do, but if everybody comes back, Wake Forest will be, at worst, a pre-season top 25 team to start the 2018.
The starting lineup would probably remain the same at all positions except the SF spot, with freshman Chaundee Brown likely starting there:
PG - Bryant Crawford
SG- Keyshawn Woods
SF- Chaundee Brown
PF- Dinos Mitoglou
C- John Collins
That is a roster that can make some noise in the ACC, as well as on a national stage.
If Collins goes pro then Coach Manning is left with a couple of options. He can either slide Moore or SJM in at the 5 and leave everything else in tact, or get a prototypical PF grad transfer and maybe slide Mitoglou in at the 5.
PG - Bryant Crawford
SG- Keyshawn Woods
SF- Chaundee Brown
PF- Dinos/Grad Transfer
C- Dinos/Grad Transfer/Moore/SJM
There aren’t as many ACC caliber centers out there in the grad transfer market, so a power forward is the more likely scenario. There will be a big need for rebounding and defense inside, and a grad transfer can fill that role.
What will Coach Manning do about defense?
There is no way to avoid this topic either...the defense this year was inexcusable for an ACC team, and it cost us a chance to make a run in the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament.
What I saw last night was horrific defense. I don’t question the effort or intensity of the majority of the players, but how an ACC basketball team playing in its 33rd game of the season gets beat by multiple backdoor cuts, and fails to defend simple pick-and-rolls is mind-blowing to me.
This team lacked lateral foot speed at a lot of positions, but a lot of teams also deal with this problem. There has to be a solution to an inability to defend simple base offenses, or stay in front of your man in the half-court offense. When guards get into the lane it causes a lot of pressure on the interior of the defense. That leads to foul trouble and easy layups and dunks (as we saw ad nauseum last night).
Wake lost two tournament games scoring 90 and 88 points. That should never happen with the pace that the Demon Deacons play at, and it demands accountability moving forward.
I know that Coach Manning is primarily a man-to-man guy, but he showed a willingness to play some zone throughout the year as well. The problem with doing this is that zone is not something you can just throw in there and serve as a quick fix. You have to know the fundamentals of the zone, what your role is within the zone, and what the point of the zone is. That requires a lot of practice time, communication, and trust with your teammates.
If Manning wants to play zone for next year then the drills and fundamentals have to start now if it is going to be effective.
The makeup of the team very well could change quite a bit this summer, but Coach Manning has assembled a lineup that is ready to compete at least for the middle of the ACC if everybody returns.
As Wake Forest fans we usually expect the worst, so that would mean Collins going pro, and perhaps a couple of other defections as well in the off-season. If the backcourt can stay in tact then I think this team will return to the NCAA Tournament, albeit in perhaps a very different manner than this year.
Time will tell, but hope springs eternal, so we start all over again next year.