The Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Danny Manning is in, Jeff Bzdelik is out.
After 4 years of painful basketball a changing of the guard has taken place. Jeff Bzdelik was let go after coaching 4 miserable seasons. The Deacons managed only TWO ACC road wins in the 4 seasons under Bzdelik, and had only a 17-51 record in conference play overall. Wake is coming off their only winning season under Bzdelik at 17-16, but with only 6 ACC wins, AD Ron Wellman thought Manning would be a better fit.
Manning comes to Wake from Tulsa, where he turned a team around in two seasons and made the NCAA tournament last year, winning both the regular season and C-USA conference tournament championships. He also coached as an assistant under Bill Self at Kansas. Manning has had an instant impact on recruiting, helping sign several key prospects in only a few months. He has stated multiple times he looks to instill a gritty, aggressive defense in Winston-Salem, which will be a nice change of pace after Wake was ranked over 200th in defense last season. He’ll have a decent bit of talent this season, but will be without several key players from the Deacons’ last campaign. The Deacs lose team leader Travis McKie, who spent all 4 years of his talented career with Bzdelik. 3 Point threat Coron Williams has also graduated. Key role players Bill Moto and Tyler Cavanaugh left via transfers. The cupboard isn’t bare for the Deacs, but a lot of the talent is unproven and some players will have to play bigger roles.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the last few seasons for Wake Forest fans has been the inconsistency. The difference in play between the road and home at the Joel Coliseum was astounding. Wake swept their big 4 ACC opponents last season, defeating NC State, UNC, and Duke. They scored a victory over highly ranked Miami the season before. A few times a year, Wake would show up and play like a tournament team against high level competition and win. However, that team would quickly regress back to an ACC bottom feeder. The key for Danny Manning will be to have his team prepared every night with the same intensity and focus that the Deacs had last season when they scored those big wins.
As far as key games go, the opener is tomorrow night, November 14th at 7 against a solid UNC-Asheville squad. The Deacons also take on Minnesota in the Big 10-ACC challenge, and visit Florida on December 20th in their biggest non-conference challenge. The key stretch of the season will be the beginning of the ACC schedule. Wake opens league play with a gauntlet of Louisville, Duke, Georgia Tech, @ Syracuse, then UNC at home. That stretch will be absolutely brutal, but it will provide a look at how good this team will be. Realistically, a win vs. Georgia Tech and one of the other 4 opponents would be a great start to the ACC season for the Demon Deacons.
Codi Miller-McIntyre (Jr.) G- Miller-McIntyre could be poised to have a big season. He averaged 12.6 points and 4 assists last season, and will be the primary perimeter threat for Wake this year. Some people inside the program are saying they expect a breakout season with Codi establishing himself as one of the best guards in the ACC. While that remains to be seen, he will have a lot of weight on his shoulders.
Devin Thomas (Jr.) F- Thomas is Wake’s best big man, averaging 11 and 7.5 last season. He shot 54% but needs to improve from the free-throw line and defensively. He will allow the Deacons to play inside-out offensively and will carry a majority of the offensive load along with Miller-McIntyre.
I think this Wake team will be a lot better than people expect. I predict an ACC record of right around .500, however I think the Deacs narrowly miss the NCAA tournament. There is no doubt in my mind they will make it next season, with the progression of the 2 key juniors in addition to young players Mitchell Wilbekin and Greg McClinton.