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Wake Forest Basketball: Expectations for the 2020 Season

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What is success in year one?

NCAA Basketball: No.Carolina AT at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

With everything going on in 2020, it may have gotten lost in all the chaos that college basketball starts this week. That’s right, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons begin the Steve Forbes era this Wednesday at home against Delaware State. The rest of the non-conference slate dropped this weekend, so let’s take a look.

Looking at that schedule, it is pretty obvious Wake Forest decided to go light on the non-conference opponents, because based on the final 2019-20 KenPom rankings, the competition is not very strong:

  • Delaware State: 346
  • Longwood: 319
  • Troy: 293
  • Presbyterian: 335
  • VMI: 257

With an average ranking of 310, this could be one of the easiest non-conference schedules among the major conference teams this season. That is probably the right move for a team with a new coaching staff and a roster packed with transfers in a year where preseason activities have been limited, but it likely won’t do anything to prepare the team for the ACC—especially that early gauntlet of Virginia twice, Syracuse, and Duke.

So what exactly should our expectations be for Wake Forest in the 2020-21 season? As far as wins and losses are concerned, the ACC media expectations are pretty low. The Deacs were once again picked to finish dead last in the ACC, receiving almost 200 fewer points than the next lowest team.

With the loss of Olivier Sarr and Chaundee Brown, that makes plenty of sense. But as with any team in any sport, the first year under a new coach is a whole lot less about wins and losses and a whole lot more about building for the future (though if we lose one of those first five games, I might be concerned for a while). Let’s run through some areas outside of wins and losses where this season could be labeled as a success.

  1. Defense, Defense, Defense

It’s no secret that Wake Forest hasn’t been a good defensive team in a long, long time. In fact, the last time the Deacs were in the top 100 in KenPom for defensive efficiency was a decade ago in Dino Gaudio’s final year at the helm; it’s probably not a coincidence that 2010 was also the last year the Deacs managed to win at least 20 games. Even throwing out advanced stats, it wasn’t difficult to see that Wake was just a horrible defensive team in the past few years. Far too many times, the Deacs were completely unable to keep players from any team—from Houston Baptist to Liberty to Duke—in front of them. Straight line drives to the basket were available any time the opponent wanted them, and help defense was either non-existent or consisted of every single player on the court collapsing into the paint and completely ignoring the other four players on offense. Even if the Deacs were to lose every single conference game this season, seeing some good man-to-man defense—with players keeping the opponent in front of them, good close outs, and proper help rotations when things breakdown—would be a successful season in my eyes.

2. Shot Selection

This is another area where Wake Forest has just been plain bad in recent history. The basketball world seems to have come to an agreement that the most efficient shots in the game are shots in the paint and open 3-pointers. The Deacs spent the last several seasons doing the exact opposite, deciding to instead focus on the undisputed least efficient shot, the contested midrange jumper. This, of course, resulted in an offense that struggled to score points. In the 2018-19 season, for example, Wake Forest finished the season with an effective field goal percentage of 45%, which was 342nd out of the 353 teams. Last season, the Deacs managed to boost that all the way up to 49%, still 200th in the nation. ETSU, on the other hand, finished the 2019-20 season with the 28th best eFG% in the nation at 53.5%. Hopefully whatever Forbes was doing for the Buccaneers came with him.

3. Off Ball Movement

If you’ve read anything on this site in the past 3 years, you’ve probably already read this a thousand times because I’ve talked about it ad nauseam. An offense where one player dribbles the ball for the length of the shot clock while everyone else just stands around is never going to work unless you have a guy like James Harden (and even then it probably still won’t work). Just seeing an offense with some flow—i.e. guys constantly moving and setting screens away from the ball to generate easy looks at the basket—would be enough for me to be excited about the future.

4. Experience for the younger guys

The Wake Forest roster currently has 4 sophomores, a redshirt freshman and 2 true freshmen. Since the NCAA announced in October that winter athletes would get an extra year of eligibility regardless of how many games they play in, this season is a great opportunity to get minutes for Jahcobi Neath, Ody Oguama, Ismael Massoud, Tariq Ingraham, Quadry Adams, and Emmanuel Okpomo. Even if the Deacs finish in last place in the conference, these minutes will be invaluable to the future of the program. Hopefully we can see some gradual improvements over the course of the season.

5. Energy

The past two coaches to lead Wake Forest were not exactly known for their energy and enthusiasm. You’d probably have an easier time arguing the reverse. That is not to say that a more stoic approach to coaching is wrong. I am simply saying that after a decade of silent pacing and golf clapping, I am ready for a change of pace. I just want to see a coach who wears his heart on his sleeve and has the ability to energize both the players and the fans. Let’s get some energy back into this program. Thankfully, I think Forbes probably already has that covered.

With it being 2020 and the first year of a new era, I honestly have no idea what to expect from the Deacs this season. Just showing improvement over the last 10 years is a win in my book. What are your expectations for the 2020-21 basketball season?