After weeks of wondering whether Danny Manning would be retained as Wake Forest’s head coach, and speculating as to who might replace him if a change were to take place, Wake Forest Athletic Director Ron Wellman angered the vast majority of his fan base when he announced this past Friday that Danny Manning will be returning for his sixth season as head men’s basketball coach at Wake Forest this coming year.
Despite Jeff Goodman’s reporting that Manning’s remaining contract is $18M fully guaranteed through the 2024-2025 season, Wellman stated that “Danny’s continuation is based on our belief in him and his staff and the future of our program. Otherwise, we do not discuss contract details publicly.” Wellman went on to say that, “[n]ext year will be a turnaround year for us and I felt Danny was the best person to achieve that immediate improvement.” Given those statements from Wellman, who will be the athletic director until April 30, let’s take an early look at what we can realistically expect from Wake Forest’s team in the 2019-2020 season.
Wake Forest went just 11-20 (4-15 ACC) in 2018-2019 and is currently 169th (nice?) in Ken Pom, despite starting the season ranked 94th. That trend was also problematic the year before, when the Deacons started the season ranked 57th and finished 89th. That tells me that the teams have had talent, and therefore have had potential, but that they’ve also underachieved. In fact, 2016-2017 is the only year where Wake has improved from its preseason Ken Pom ranking under Danny Manning, and that took the emergence of John Collins, who was 1st-team All-ACC and has the potential to be a multiple-time NBA All Star.
Will 2019-2020 be different? We theoretically return more than 90% of our production. As frustrated as nearly all of us are with the decision that was made, I tried to be objective in thinking about what our team will actually look like next year. What’s our most likely outcome this season? What’s best case scenario? What’s worst case scenario? Wake Forest’s basketball program should be judged on making NCAA Tournaments in most seasons, so with that in mind, I took a look at what efficiency ratings NCAA Tournament and NIT teams have had, and see if there’s a path for Wake to get there in 2019-2020.
From what I can gather from Ken Pom data, NCAA Tournament at-large teams tend to have a net rating of approximately +12 to +14. Please don’t confused that with the NET rating (sorry, NC State). That number is reached by calculating offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency. In 2017, Wake Forest had a net rating of +16.25 (Offensive Rating of 120.9 and a Defensive Rating of 104.7). Teams in the NIT are closer to net ratings of +10. Those ratings don’t guarantee entry into tournaments, as the committees will evaluate overall resumes and not just a number, but it will give us an idea of the quality of team Wake will have to be in order to make one of those tournaments.
As a baseline, Wake Forest had a net rating of -.68 this past season, with an offensive rating of 104.6 and a defensive rating of 105.3. That means Wake will have to improve by 13 to 15 rating points in order to get there, which is a very tall task.
If Wake is going to take a step, then they are likely going to have to rely on taking a major step forward on offense. Wake was 172nd nationally in offensive rating last year with a rating of 104.6. That was caused by being a terrible shooting team (inside and outside the arc) and having an effective field goal percentage of just 44.8%. How can that improve? Besides #gottamakeshots, the most obvious path is if Hoard returns, which isn’t a safe assumption, but it’s definitely possible. The former 5-star recruit had a slightly below average offensive rating last year, but that was because he shot just 23% from outside. He either needs to become a dramatically better shooter over the offseason, or just stick to attacking from within 15 feet of the hoop. He shot more than 50% from inside the arc, so if he can be more aggressive more often, then he can give us a way to get easy buckets on a more consistent basis.
Brandon Childress had an offensive rating of 107.3 last year, which is good, but it has a chance to be a lot better if he could eliminate a lot of pull up jumpers from inside the arc (40.4% on 2 point field goal attempts, and he attempted 141). I expect that the added shooting of Charlotte transfer Andrien White (career 37% 3 point shooter), along with freshman Ismael Massoud (4-star prospect with a pretty stroke) will make Wake a much better 3-point shooting team, and will also mean that Chill doesn’t have to force shots as often this season, which will also improve the team’s efficiency. Even though they’ll be improved, they still won’t have quite the same outside weapons as they did with Austin Arians, Mitchell Wilbekin, and Keyshawn Woods, among others, but they will likely be better defenders.
Chaundee Brown also got much better on the offensive end, as he improved his offensive rating by nearly 8 points, while also increasing his usage. He’s a good enough shooter from the perimeter, is getting better at converting around the rim, and is a very good free throw shooter. He also plays incredibly hard, which is why he’s my favorite player on the team.
Wake freshmen Isaiah Mucius and Sharone Wright both had offensive ratings below 100 last year, but that was to be expected from freshmen. You can see the talent there, and with more perimeter shooters on the team should mean that they can be more selective with their shots and improve their efficiency. If they can become average offensively this season that’d go a long way for Wake. Still, that will require a decent amount of improvement from both.
To Wake’s credit, they were very good at grabbing offensive rebounds and getting to the charity stripe, unfortunately those two things are far less important to your overall record than shooting and limiting turnovers. Overall, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities for next year’s team to have an offensive rating of 110, which would be similar to Wake Forest’s offense two years ago, which was 72nd nationally.
Manning’s biggest issue during his tenure at Wake has always been on the defensive end. Manning’s best defensive rating at Wake was during his first year, when they were ranked 125th and had a rating of 101.8. When Wake made the NCAA Tournament in 2017, it was because they had an elite offense (7th nationally), but the nation’s 176th best defense. If they would have been just average on defense that year, they would’ve statistically been a top 25 team and would’ve easily made the NCAA Tournament.
Wake should theoretically be better at defense this year. Olivier Sarr can provide rim protection, but we are in big trouble if he gets hurt or he gets in foul trouble. We simply don’t have the depth that we should on the interior. Brandon Childress and Andrien White should be able to force turnovers, while Jaylen Hoard, Isaiah Mucius, and Chaundee Brown have the potential to be a good wing defending trio with the ability to guard multiple positions. They’ve also had a full year in the system, though we can argue how effective the system actually is. Even if I’m generous with improvement, it’s tough seeing them improve to anything better than 102 which would be the second best defense Manning has coached at Wake.
Overall, that would come to a net rating of +8, which would be fringe NIT at best. It’s possible that Wake could have a number of close wins that don’t improve their Ken Pom that much, but really improve their resume, but it’s certainly not probable. To me, I see a team that can be around .500, but just doesn’t have enough interior depth to be a good enough defensive team to get into the postseason. If that’s what giving us the best immediate improvement looks like, then we probably shouldn’t have been so focused on ‘immediate improvement.’
In a best case scenario, Jaylen Hoard turns into an All-ACC player who imposes his will offensively. Olivier Sarr would also take another step forward under Manning’s tutelage, and Wake is able to get consistent scoring and slashing from its guards.
Defensively, Wake gets much better at being able to use its length and versatility to switch on screens, and get in passing lanes to force turnovers. If all of those things can happen, which is a BIG IF, then I can see a path to being NIT or maybe even being on the NCAA Tournament bubble. If you view Wake as a team that was actually 89th in Ken Pom (where they were preseason) and not the 169th best team (where they finished) then it’s a lot easier to see the jump. However, it’s also nearly impossible to overlook just how bad Wake was this season, despite the talent that was on the roster.
In the worst case scenario, Jaylen Hoard leaves for the NBA and Wake is left without anyone who we could consistently rely on to score inside. If Hoard left, then I would think that next year’s team would end up being pretty similar to this year’s team and we’d be looking at another 20 loss season.
In what is probably a mistake, I ask that you please share your thoughts on the upcoming season in the comments section or tweet me @Robert_Reinhard.