Anyone who followed the end of the Tubby Smith era and the mercifully short coaching search, no matter which candidate they were backing or their feelings about Tubby, could agree on one thing. At least we aren’t Wake Forest.
There is nothing more dangerous to a coaching career than a fan-base with unrealistic expectations, and coaching at Wake Forest is dangerous. Dino Gaudio coached in Winston-Salem three seasons, after holding the program together after the sudden death of his predecessor. His teams got better each of his three-seasons, He won an NCAA tournament game in his third season, but was then shipped to the analyst desk at ESPN, because that wasn’t good enough. Next up was Jeff Bzdelik, who came to Wake Forest after four seasons of mediocrity in Colorado. He was medicore at Wake too, but like his predecessor, he was fired after his most successful season, which was still bad by the way, but it was still his best season. Bzdelik wasn’t just fired. He was driven out by rabid fans who bought billboards, sponsored ads in student newspapers, and partied like it was 1999-2000 (when they won the NIT, but didn’t fire their coach). Coaching controversies and changes aren’t pretty, but that was a mess. Now it is Danny Manning’s turn to appease rabid fans, and to rebuild a program that has steadily deteriorated over the last several season. His tenure was short at Tulsa, leading the Golden Hurricane to the NCAA tournament in his second season. Given the history of his new program, he’ll need to work just as quickly.
It may be growing pains, it may be youth (there are seven underclassmen on the roster) or it may be talent. Regardless, Wake Forest isn’t very good. They are 4-3, but none of their wins came against top 200 teams, and their losses were either against teams they should beat on their home floor (Iona and Delaware State) or an absolute blowout (by 30 to Arkansas).
Wake’s big problem is that they just can’t score, ranking 199th in offensive efficiency, and they fail to score in ways that Gophers should be able to exploit. Namely, they can’t take care of the ball (they have the ball stolen more often than only 22 other teams) and can’t make outside shots, ranking 237th in the country in three-point accuracy. On defense, the Demon Deacons are decent. They block a fair number of shots, defend the three-point line pretty well, and are the best defensive rebounding team in the country. However, until they learn to score, their defensive effort will continue to be wasted.
A bad offensive team is bound to have some bad offensive players, and Wake Forest does not disappoint. Codi Miller-Mcintyre attempts 30% of his team’s shots when he is on the floor, but is shooting under 43% for the season inside the three-point line, and is 0-7 from the outside. He is supposed to be their best offensive player, and is averaging 11 points per game on 12 shots per game. Their point guard Madison Jones averages three-turnovers per game, giving the ball away on more than a third of possessions he’s in the game. Jones and Miller-Mcintyre play the most minutes in Wake’s backcourt, and are the root of the offensive woes. Off the bench and in the front-court there may be some reason for optimism. Freshman guard Mitchell Wikbiken is dangerous from the outside, where he has made 12-27 three-pointers so far. In the spirit of optimism, we’ll ignore his 4-13 two point shooting. Devin Thomas and Konstantinos Mitoglou, who are 6’9” and 6’10” respectively, are a big front line who are efficient. Thomas averages a double double, and Mitoglou probably would too with more playing time. Cornelius Hudson rounds out the starting line-up, don’t be surprised if he reminds you of Austin Hollins. He’s rail thin at 6’6” and 180, but can rebound fairly well and has quick hands on defense.
The Gophers are the better team, and if Iona and Delaware State can win at Wake Forest, they should be able to as well. This is still a road game though, and the biggest game at Wake Forest this season. Despite the turmoil surrounding the program the last few seasons, attendance has been decent, and the crowd will be much louder than anything the Gophers have experienced so far this season. Minnesota’s penchant for poor decision-making and worse shot selection, combined with Wake Forest’s excellent defensive rebounding, could turn a comfortable win into a close game into an uncomfortable loss too quickly. That’s what happened against St. John’s, and nearly what happened against Georgia. Let’s hope the Gophers have learned from those two games, and have also learned when not to foul and when not to shoot.