Before you get your hopes up, I know what most, if not all, of you are hoping the first item in this list is going to be, and I will tell you now that it is not in this article anywhere. If you want to stop reading now or just jump to the bottom and leave an angry comment, believe me, I understand 1000%.
With that out of the way, let’s jump in. Danny Manning has promised that the team is going to “take a step” next year, citing that the team is returning around 90% of the minutes and scoring from last season. Of course, that’s 90% from a team that won 11 games and didn’t beat a single NCAA tournament team, so there’s no guarantee that means there will be any improvement next season. While Manning failed to say in what direction the step would be, I decided to try to list 5 things that the Deacs must do in order to make that step a step in the right direction. I feel obligated to point out that I am not a basketball coach (shocking) and that these are 100% just my opinions.
1. Use more offensive sets
There’s really no way to sugar coat just how bad the Wake Forest offense was this season. The Deacs were 175th in adjusted offense per Kenpom, 281st in points per game, 344th in FG%, 347th in 2-point%, 329th in 3-point%, and 336th in assist per game. For reference, there are 353 division-I basketball teams.
The reason for this, in my opinion, is the lack of a coordinated offense. Sure, the Deacs run a weave and a UCLA cut once or twice a game, but that seems to be the extent of the playbook. I’ve written about this several times this year, but most of the offense this season was a lot of dribbling and standing around while someone tries to score 1 on 1. I understand the allure of a more freelance, pro-style offense, but without 2-3 one and done players a la Duke, I don’t ever see an offense like that being too successful in college basketball. The way to improve the offense is to get the ball moving and get some open shots. Here’s the FG% of all 15 ACC teams vs their assists per game numbers.
Wake had the fewest assists of any team in the ACC and the second lowest FG% (by 0.1%, thank you Notre Dame). If the Deacs don’t improve their assist numbers in the coming season, I don’t really see the offense improving very much. To that end, Wake desperately needs some offensive sets that prioritizes spacing, ball movement, and player movement to get better looks at the basket. For example: this “continuity ball screen” set that every team in the world seems to be running this year.
Continuity ball screen has made it to the first weekend of the tourney: pic.twitter.com/f87FdDAA66— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) March 24, 2019
Side note: check out Jordan’s YouTube channel because it is the best college basketball channel out there.
This is not all that complex, but you get a ball handler coming off a pick towards the middle of the court, the screener rolling/popping to the side of the court where there is basically no help, and the ball moving from one side of the court to other rather than sticking on one side. Obviously, this is just an example, but if I see that teams like Gonzaga, Virginia, Duke, and Kentucky are all running the same thing, I’d probably just copy that.
2. Abandon Man to Man Defense
Just stop. The Deacs have tried playing man to man defense for 5 years, and in the words of Regina George, “it’s not going to happen.”
The roster has changed significantly over the last 3 years, and yet the ability to play man to man defense hasn’t changed at all (our average AdjD rank over that span is 163). I don’t know what the issue is, but saying “we have to be better” isn’t solving it, so why not just commit to zone full time? Take all the time spent in practice learning man to man, and just work on zone instead. I really don’t see how it could be any worse.
3. Figure out a Pick and Roll defense and stick to it
I’m assuming that the Deacs will not, in fact, abandon man to man defense, so the next thing to do is figure out how to guard a pick and roll/pop. This has been somewhat difficult for Wake over the past 5 years.
I don’t care if they ice, hedge, switch, or whatever, but just pick (ha, get it?) one and stick to it every single time. That should eliminate the confusion and miscommunications that seem to arise every time a team uses a ball screen.
4. Keep Jaylen Hoard in the post
This, of course, really only matters if Jaylen Hoard decides to come back for another season at Wake Forest. Hoard is a phenomenal talent, but—and again, completely just my opinion— I think Wake could maximize his skill set by keeping him in close to the basket where he can score in the paint and clean up on the offensive glass. That means the Deacs would move Sarr out of the paint and to the perimeter, where he can space the floor and feed Hoard high-low.
Basically, use Jaylen Hoard as if he was John Collins. Apparently, Collins could score from the perimeter when he was at Wake, as he’s shooting 35% from 3 for his career in the NBA, and you don’t just develop that overnight. However, Wake didn’t need him to score from the perimeter because he was so dominant in the paint.
5. Get Tougher Inside
You’ve probably seen me mention this plenty of times this year, but the Deacs got absolutely killed down low by teams ranging from Houston Baptist to Tennessee all year. Here’s the chart of the big men that Wake played this year that performed above average against the Deacs. Note that bold indicates a season high.
Now, obviously, some of these guys are really good players. Grant Williams is the SEC player of the year and we all know Christ Koumadje is the G.O.A.T, but I don’t think there is any reason guys from Valpo (who plays teams like Concordia, SIU-Edwardsville, and Purdue North Central) and WCU (who plays Jacksonville, VMI, and Hiwassee) should be dropping season highs on an ACC team. With the loss of 6-10, 245 lb graduate transfer Ikenna Smart, Wake could be in even more trouble in the front court next season (though 7-0, 220 lb incoming freshman Charles Coleman may be able to fill his absence). The bottom line is that if the Deacs don’t find a way to compete in the trenches, it is going to be very hard to take much of a step forward next season.
Bonus: Don’t get trapped in the corner on purpose
That’s the end of my list. If the Deacs can accomplish a majority of these things next season with the talent we have on the roster, I see no reason why we shouldn’t be able to finally crack the top 10 in the ACC for the first time in a decade. If you have thoughts or things to add to the list—or you just want to vent that we could have solved all of these at one time by hiring a new coach—feel free to leave a comment.