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Three Major Questions About Wake Forest Basketball

An 8-9 start has many folks asking questions and scratching their heads. Here are the three biggest questions about the basketball team and what it will take to get moving in the right direction again.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at Wake Forest Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

I have held off on writing too many articles that are overly negative towards the coaching staff and the team. Primarily this is because I don’t like to write emotionally about a topic that I am obviously very emotionally invested in. It leads to unfair characterizations and comments that are not necessarily fact or statistical based, but what I feel like happens instead of reality.

That being said, there will be some observations that I have in here that are speculation as opposed to “fact-based” or “statistical-based” observations, particularly when I am attempting to diagnose what is going on, but these comments come after several games of seeing the same thing over and over again, and are not necessarily from an emotional state of writing, but a more logical viewpoint after a pattern has emerged.

Reasonable minds can disagree with what I am saying and I would love to hear comments on that if there are assertions I make that people feel are unfair or misguided.

Headed into this season most people thought that this team had the talent and the ability to be a solid NIT team and challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid. Obviously replacing Dinos Mitoglou, Austin Arians, and John Collins has caused a lot more instability than most thought it would.

Collins is one of the better players to ever wear the Old Gold and Black, but losing Mitoglou at the four and having to resort to a makeshift replacement of Terrence Thompson and a handful of sophomores and freshmen there has been less than ideal.

At 8-9 (1-4 in the ACC), there is little to no hope at the postseason for Wake Forest this year, so I want to focus on three things that I am going to paying attention to moving forward (and many have been paying attention to and pointing out already).

1. What will it take for this team to engage defensively for long periods of time?

This to me is the biggest question about the coaching staff and its ability to hold the team to a standard that is acceptable on the defensive side of things. We are in year four of the Danny Manning era and it has become clear that defense is a serious weakness in his teams.

His teams, going from 2015 to the present have ranked: 125th, 128th, 176th, and 155th in defensive efficiency. Given the amount of talent that the team has both athletically and from an intelligence standpoint this is clearly unacceptable for an ACC team.

Offensively there have been some frustrating times, but even this year the team is ranked 55th in offensive efficiency after finishing 7th nationally last year.

The lack of a defensive DNA and footprint is startling and it is getting to the point where watching the team on defense is an extremely frustrating endeavor.

Lapses of effort, floating around in man-to-man defense, lackadaisical pick-and-roll defense, and an overall lack of awareness and communication is obvious to anybody who watches Wake basketball for more than a few minutes.

Now not all of this is on the coaching staff, as players need to individually take pride in their defense and make sure that when the defense is called and sets are given, that maximum effort and focus is there on every single play.

That being said, I believe there are serious flaws in the defensive mindset overall and that stems from an incohesive scheme and failure to get through to the players what needs to occur on each possession.

Until the scheme becomes clear from the coaching staff (and in my opinion amended, particularly on the failure to defend the pick-and-roll), the defensive efficiency will continue to suffer and remain at this unacceptable level.

2. What exactly is the mindset of the rotations and substitution patterns?

If there was one question that I could sit down and ask the coaching staff and head coach Danny Manning it would, without a doubt, be “what is your strategy and rationale for your substitution patterns?”.

It is hard to fault Manning and the staff overall with regards to the development of players under his tenure, most noticeably John Collins and his massive step from his freshman to sophomore season, but the most common complaint I have seen from most Wake fans is “what the heck are we doing with the substitutions?”.

What exactly, is the staff looking for on the court, and why are players pulled at certain times, when other players are not?

There are two types of mistakes that lead to fouls/turnovers/bad plays overall: effort mistakes and low-iq mistakes. From afar it appears that the coaching staff penalizes effort mistakes more than they penalize low-iq mistakes, particularly punishing front court players more than back court players.

If Doral Moore picks up a foul because he makes a dumb over-the-back type play on a rebound, or gets another absurd moving screen call, then I have absolutely no problem with him getting a quick hook. These are low-iq mistakes that have no doubt been addressed over and over in practice.

If he gets called for a foul when he goes straight up and challenges a player coming into the lane and gets pulled for that, then I have a serious issue (assuming no foul trouble) because that is an “effort” mistake and he is challenging the play on defense.

It also seems that the guards have a much longer leash on them than the big men do when it comes to mistakes. We have consistently a cornucopia of mistakes from our back court this year, to name a few: bad passes, blown dunks on breakaways, defensive lapses in man-to-man defense, long twos with their feet on the line, isolation basketball with bad shots early in the shot clock, “ball-hogging”, and heat checks that should never be taken under any circumstances.

Our guards have a lot of talent, but the low-iq basketball plays have been jarring to watch, especially when there appear to be little to no ramifications for the boneheaded mistakes that continue to occur.

My biggest complaint comes from the playing time of freshman Chaundee Brown. He is without a doubt the best wing/guard defensive player that Wake Forest has on the roster, which should get him at least 25 MPG alone given our deficiencies on defense at the other positions on the team.

He is also an athletic specimen at the 3 as well. In ACC play he is averaging 16 minutes per game, which is, quite frankly, shocking given the inconsistent play of the other options in the lineup.

I don't know if Brown is doing something in practice or in games that is causing the staff to take him out and go to a three-guard lineup, but to handicap the lineup by only playing him for 40% of the minutes so far in-conference is something that is borderline unacceptable without a clear reasoning.

To be clear, I don’t hold myself in such high regard as a fan that I demand the staff report to the fans as to why Brown isn’t playing, but it is agitating to go back and try to examine what he did wrong that is keeping him off the court, with no clear answer to that.

Overall I think that getting more minutes to Donovan Mitchell, Melo Eggleston, Chaundee Brown, and Olivier Sarr, at the expense of the minutes coming from the four players in the back court, would be a successful strategy for both long-term success, as well as immediate payoff.

Perhaps the overall strategy for the staff is that of long-term development at the expense of short-term gains and wins, but it is year four and this development should have already taken place and be evident, particularly from a discipline standpoint with regards to the back court.

3. What will it take to consistently get the ball inside to Doral Moore?

This feeds off the second question a bit, especially when looking at the back court vs. the front court.

Let me preface this by saying that I do not believe Doral Moore is perfect by any stretch of the imagination. He has a lot of work to do on his game to continue to get better (as do all the other players on the team).

I have spent the past few games specifically watching Doral work inside against a variety of different defenses, front court sizes, and fronts/double-teams.

He works very, very hard at pretty much all times on the offensive side of the court, constantly trying to get in the right place to receive the ball, sealing off his man, and repositioning when it does not work at first.

He allows himself to get moved too easily outside of the low block by players much smaller than him, and this causes issues when he actually gets the ball because he is too far away to turn and lay it in, dunk it, or get off a quick hook shot over the defense.

Now that we have stated that...the guards need to get him the damn ball much more often than they are doing now. I have been thoroughly confused by the lack of ability of our guards to throw an adequate entry pass to Moore when he is established in the correct positioning.

When Wake played Virginia Tech, Moore was going up against a 6-6 guy for most of the game, and a 6-2 guy (!!!) for stretches, and yet the guards still could not or would not get him the ball, even when he had in the inside positioning and was motioning for the ball.

More frustration comes when a contested 18 foot jump shot is attempted with 10 seconds on the shot clock after a guard half-heartedly looks inside to try to find Moore. If I were the coaching staff I would make it an absolute requirement for Moore to touch the ball on every single possession in the first 4 minutes of the game.

When the guards do try to get him the ball, half the time it is with a bounce pass at his knees, which is difficult for any 7-footer to catch, and negates the work that Moore has done by getting into proper positioning.

Much like Wake always started the game last year with a three-point attempt from Austin Arians, followed by a consistent diet of John Collins, the “inside-out” offensive mentality has to come back or the offense will continue to struggle.

There is a lot of talent in our back court, but the number of shots coming from Childress and Crawford when there are many other talented players who can get better looks is becoming extremely tiresome.

Doral Moore is a very talented big man and with the amount of work that he puts in down low he deserves to get way more touches than he gets.

Here’s an statistical example of the failure of getting him the ball in ACC play (5 games):

  • Bryant Crawford has attempted 54 2-pointers (16-54 for 30%)
  • Brandon Childress has attempted 25 2-pointers (7-25 for 28%)
  • Doral Moore has attempted 32 2-pointers (16-32 for 53%)

Our point guards have shot 79 2-pointers in 6 games (16 per game!!!), while our center has shot 32 in 6 games (6 per game). That is a fundamental flaw in our offense, and something that has to be addressed.

I don't say that to throw Crawford and Childress under the bus, but merely to highlight that absurd stat. This needs to be taken care of by the coaching staff, and until it is, Wake will continue to experience frustrating possessions on both sides of the court.