Riley Johnston of Blogger So Dear joins us today to talk about Travis McKie, a glut of freshmen down in Winston Salem and his expectations for the Demon Deacons' season.Enjoy!
Streaking the Lawn: Wake Forest was picked to finish tied for 10th in the ACC by the coaches in their pre-season poll. Going into the season, did you think that was a fair assessment? How about now?
Blogger So Dear: To be honest, I don't think anybody knew what to expect coming into this season because we have 7 freshmen, 6 of whom are getting a lot of playing time so far headed into ACC season. I think a tie for 10th was a pretty fair assessment. The Deacs finished in a four-way tie for ninth through last, so 10th seemed about right before the season started.
Ken Pomeroy expects the Deacs to go 5-13, which would send us into a tie with Virginia Tech for 10th, one game ahead of Boston College at 4-14. I actually think that Wake Forest is better than where KenPom has them ranked due to a few factors that I won't bore you with. Essentially it has a fair bit to do with pre-season weighting and his formula for determining how to include freshmen into pre-season projections. I don't think he is wrong the way he does it, but Wake Forest is an outlier because of how many young guys they have.
I expect Wake to win 5 or 6 games and maybe exceed expectations by a spot or two. Nothing to write home about, but probably better than most Wake fans expect at this point.
STL: The start of Wake's season has been a bit up and down, but the final game before ACC play - a 66-59 win over Xavier was a nice showing. Were you comfortable with that finish to the non-conference slate?
BSD: Wake has actually looked pretty good both in person and statistically the past few games (Duke game aside). The improvement on defense has been the biggest factor so far, which I know as a UVA blogger you recognize the importance of. The offense looks better in terms of the sets that Coach Bzdelik has the team running, but still has a long way to go before the execution is to the level that is necessary to compete with the big boys in the ACC.
Overall I thought we did about how we would in the pre-season. The 94-68 loss to Iona was both embarrassing and unacceptable obviously (14-28 from 3's), but we did have good showings versus UConn and Seton Hall in losses, and then a nice win against Xavier to finish off the schedule.
Basically, right now as a Wake Forest fan you have to look at everything relatively. If you compare the team and what we are doing now to pre-2010 then you are going to be absolutely disgusted and sick with what you see. Compared to what I saw the past two years on the court, this team is much improved (despite most Wake Forest fans objections to that statement), and is building a strong foundation to win going forward.
Unfortunately, every game has become another referendum on Coach Bzdelik, which fair or not, is a very trying and questionable way to look at every single game during a season, but to each their own!
STL: The number of freshmen listed on the Wake Forest roster is just staggering. The fact that Travis McKie (someone many Virginia fans will remember from his recruitment) is one of the "old men" on the team just seems very wrong. Which of the many freshmen are having an impact so far this season?
BSD: It is pretty hard to believe that CJ and Travis are the old guys on the team. I know that Travis has had to work hard on being a vocal leader because that isn't necessarily in his personality. From what I have seen and heard, I think that they have done a great job of leading by example on and off-the-court, which is what we have seemingly lacked in the past.
Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas are the two freshmen that have the most potential and excite the fan base. They are both below average in terms of their offensive rating (DT is way below average with his 82.6 rating), but the potential for both is very obvious. CMM has shown a good mix of point and shooting guard skills, which will be extremely useful this year and going forward. With the recent commitment of 2014 #20 Shelton Mitchell (PG), it seems worth wondering whether CMM will eventually wind up at the SG position for a lot of the game. He can play either position very well.
Thomas has been what most expected---very raw offensively, but a workhorse on the boards. He ranks 97th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage at 22.5%, and 374th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (9.9%). He also pulled down 14 and 12 boards against Xavier and Duke in his last two games. Once he gets his touch from inside and becomes a little more savvy on the offensive end he could become a legitimate double-double threat every night.
Other than those two, Tyler Cavanaugh and Arnauld William Adala-Moto have exchanged starts at the 3 spot. Cav has a good look to his offensive game but seems to be struggling to catch up with the speed of the game as a freshmen. He will develop pretty well I think and become a good 4th/5th scoring option to stretch the defense. Moto is a slasher type player that can be a lock-down defender and score at the rim if he can finish his shots.
Aaron Rountree and Madison Jones have been the two biggest surprises. Jones has been extremely effective in spelling CMM at the PG spot and has bailed Wake out of a few bad situations with his quick hands and defensive effort. Rountree is a Jamaal Levy type player for the Deacs that is a crowd-igniter on the defensive end with his intensity on every single play.
Overall the freshmen group have a long way to go but are very exciting to watch play. They make the future look pretty bright and give the Deacs some hope going forward.
STL: The aforementioned McKie is leading the team in scoring. What does he mean to the team?
BSD: Travis has quietly been an excellent player for the Deacs this year. I say "quietly" because he is one of those guys that you don't really notice on the court but then they get 22 and 11 (like he did against Duke). He has actually been criticized by some people, myself included, for taking low IQ shots and lacking the hustle that all of the freshmen show, but as you take a step back you tend to realize that is just the way that he plays.
He needs to continue to rebound at a high rate and cut down the amount of threes that he takes (just 8/32 this year) in favor of getting to the basket for easy layups and trips to the free throw line (6.3 fouls drawn per 40 minutes; 77% from the line on 88 shots).
STL: An 18 point road loss to the #1 team in the country isn't a fun way to start the conference slate, I'm sure. Is there anything you think the team can take from the game and use as they go forward?
BSD: I think the main thing for the Deacs is to get used to the speed and power of the ACC. The Deacs stumbled a bit to 7-5 non-conference record despite playing the 274th hardest schedule in the country. That is not good at all, but there are glimpses of hope if you have been paying attention. The past few games have been promising and it seems like the freshmen are starting to "get it".
It's very nice to see that Devin Thomas pulled down 12 boards against NPOY contender Mason Plumlee, but he also had 6 turnovers and 0 points. At this point one has to learn to take the good with the bad and take a longer look at the situation instead of acting like every game is life or death to this team.
The best news is that the @Duke game is now off the schedule and (no offense at all intended to Hoo Nation), it can only get easier from there. With that being said, I think the Deacs are in for a rude awakening tomorrow night. The Packline Defense of Coach Tony Bennett is going to frustrate and cause for a long night for this young Deacs team. They played well at times against Xavier and Chris Mack's similar defense, but they run it nowhere near as well as the Cavaliers do.
It could be a struggle for Wake because they rely on the free throw line (3rd in the nation at 50.3 FT/FGA rate), and UVA doesn't allow that many free throws (49th in the NCAA). The inability to get the ball in the basket from inside the 3-pt line will also hurt the Deacs because of UVA's ability to prevent driving opportunities and easy layups.
I don't think it will necessarily be a repeat of last years 68-44 thrashing at the JPJ, but I do think Wake might struggle to eclipse the 50 point mark. The Deacs are going to have to slow Harris and Mitchell down, make their three's and play the best defense they have all year to have a chance.
I'll take UVA 63-48 in this one.
Make sure to check out the other side of the Q &A over on Blogger So Dear! Thanks to Riley Johnston for his help with putting this together.