Living in Winston-Salem, I've had the pleasure of meeting and working with my fair share of Wake Forest alumni. One of those is Robert Reinhard. He is a lead writer for SB Nation's Wake Forest Blog, a big advanced statistics wonk, and a KenPom advocate. We turn to him to learn about this weekend's opponent.
STS: Since Jeff Bzdelik took over in 2010, Wake Forest has notched only one ACC win outside of Winston-Salem (in about 30 games). That came two years ago at Boston College. Conversely, at home they knocked off a #2 ranked and eventual ACC Champion Hurricanes last season and beat a #19 ranked UNC team in front of more than 12,000 in Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum about two weeks ago. I've been to "the Joel" and it's a great facility, but it's hasn't been a Cameron Crazy type atmosphere in the Bzdelik era, so why the huge home-road splits?
BSD: It truly defies explanation, but the facts are the facts. The fact of the matter is that we are an incomprehensibly terrible road team. I realize the Joel isn't Cameron, but it can be a great environment at times. Attendance certainly isn't what it was during Wake's better periods, but Wake Forest was still 4th in the ACC in attendance last season. The fans who are there truly love basketball and still support the team. I also think that because Bzdelik lacks charisma that any energy that the crowd can provide is advantageous for our team. (Great statistical piece by a BSD member on our home-away splits)
STS: Wake Forest is a very storied basketball program that counts greats like Tim Duncan and Chris Paul as alumni. Unfortunately, the program has fallen on hard times and unlike the football program which I believe will soon be on the rise, the basketball program seems to be floundering a bit. The Wikipedia page on Coach Bzdelik is downright hilarious. I quote:
"After 3 years with a total record of 34-60 (11-42 in the ACC), many fans and media members called for him to be fired, but athletic director Ron Wellman reaffirmed his support for Bzdelik, who he said had 'laid the foundation that we think is important for future success,' but in reality he pretty much ruined a once proud and great program. He is widely considered to be one of the worst coaches in the history of college basketball."
One thing I've only recently realized about Wake Forest is how heavy the fan focus is on basketball. Clemson fans may take a .500 basketball season in stride with that brand new Orange Bowl Champions shirt in the closet, but there are higher expectations in Winston-Salem. Are those expectations unrealistic? If not, how and when can they be achieved?
BSD: Wake's fan base is certainly not being realistic, and I believe anyone who tells you that the fan base should be more patient with Jeff Bzdelik is simply misinformed and wrong. In the 20 seasons prior to Jeff Bzdelik's arrival in Winston-Salem, Wake Forest made the post-season (either NCAA Tournament or N.I.T.) in 18 (90%) of those seasons. Wake Forest won the ACC Tournament in 1995 and 1996 and was the ACC Regular Season Champion in 2003. Two years prior to Jeff Bzdelik's arrival, Wake Forest started the season 16-0 and was ranked #1 in the country. Just one month before Jeff Bzdelik was hired, Dino Gaudio led Wake Forest to an 81-80 overtime victory over Texas in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament. The program currently has six players in the NBA and four of them were on Wake Forest's campus within just two years of Bzdelik's arrival. North Carolina is a state which produces great basketball talent, and Bzdelik simply has failed to recruit some of the area's best talent. Wake Forest fans and all fans deserve better than 33-59 during his first three years.
Jeff Bzdelik's final KenPom ranking in each of his 3 seasons at Wake
2010-2011: 271 (lowest in ACC history)
Athletic director Ron Wellman simply has to hire a young and accomplished coach like an Archie Miller of Dayton or a Michael White of Louisiana Tech if he wants to program to be strong once again. There's no doubt in my mind that the right coach can take this program back to sustained excellence.
STS: Sophomore Point Guard, Codi Miller-McIntyre, leads Wake Forest in points, assists, and minutes per game. He's one of Bzdelik's biggest wins on the recruiting trail and one of the few four-star guys on the team. He showed off his athleticism on Wednesday when he made a spectacular coast-to-coast game winning lay-up on against NC State. Can you tell us a little about Miller-McIntyre. Do you see him being the key to solving an elite Clemson defense that held Wake Forest to 44 points in their matchup last season?
BSD: Codi Miller-McIntyre, CMM, is the most improved player on Wake's roster and perhaps the most improved player in the ACC. He is far more aggressive in terms of attacking the basket than he was last year. At 6'3" 195 pounds, CMM is built like a linebacker and is really unstoppable in transition. CMM has an offensive rating of 105.9 this season, which is up more than 15 points over his freshman campaign. He's become far more efficient despite a greatly increased usage rate, which is not easy to do. He's also drawing 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes this year, which is more than double what he drew last year.
Codi definitely needs to have a good game penetrating if the Deacs are going to win, but I also believe players like Coron Williams and Tyler Cavanaugh are going to have to knock down a few long range shots to set up Miller-McIntyre's penetration.
STS: We're waiting for Clemson's rebounding to regress, but so far it has been much better than expected. Clemson out-rebounded Duke by 18 in the upset victory and VT by three on Wednesday. Even in losses to Arkansas and FSU earlier this season, Clemson had the rebounding edge. Conversely one of the most bizarre stats from an ACC game this year was Wake Forest getting out-rebounded 19 against UNC, but still winning. They were also out-rebounded by 13 (UVA), 10 (Pitt), and 9 (NCSU). How do you see Wake Forest's rebounding affecting their season overall and this game in particular?
BSD: Wake was one of the better rebounding teams in the nation during the first third of the season in terms of rebounding %, but unfortunately those numbers are not adjusted for competition and that trend has not continued. Rebounding is the third most important component in basketball behind effective field goal % and turnover %. In those wins against North Carolina and North Carolina State, Wake had a better eFG%. Against UNC, Wake had an edge of 50% to 40%, despite having 21 less field goal attempts. Against State, Wake had an edge of 60% to 43.6%, despite having 20 less field goal attempts. It simply isn't reasonable to expect Wake Forest to be able to have that significant of an edge in eFG% moving forward. Wake absolutely must rebound the basketball better and turn it over less if they want to be able to have sustained success.
STS: Clemson plays the fourth slowest tempo in NCAA basketball (KenPom as of 1-13). What's your perspective on why Brownell opts for such a slow tempo and Bzdelik tries to speed it up? What does it mean strategically, statistically, and which style of play wins out in this one?
BSD: I believe Brownell opts for a slower tempo because his teams this year and historically have simply lacked dynamic offensive talent to play at a faster pace. What you can't fault him for is the effectiveness of it though, as his teams generally do a very good job at not turning over the basketball, which is a critical component to success in the sport. He hasn't had elite guards who allow him to push tempo. If his teams tried to force the tempo I believe they'd turn the ball over more. He's playing within his personnel, and that's what good coaches do.
To be honest, I'm not that sure why Bzdelik tries to push the tempo as often as he does. This year Wake has made an emphasis on longer outlet passing to establish some sort of a fast or secondary break. Unfortunately, this has led to an offense that is just 178th nationally in offensive efficiency. In Bzdelik's first year (when we went 8-24) he ran the 36th fastest offense in the country, yet Wake was 243rd nationally in offensive efficiency.
I believe this will be a slower game as slower teams tend to be able to dictate tempo better. You need to score to be able to dictate tempo, and we simply won't do that enough.
STS: Clemson leads the nation in eFG% defense and smothered Wake Forest last season, however I don't think they have a notable talent advantage--if any--over the Demon Deacons. Do you see Wake Forest picking up their second ACC road win of the Bzdelik era in Littlejohn this weekend?
BSD: I unfortunately do not see Wake Forest picking up the coveted second ACC road win of the Jeff Bzdelik era, which is now in its 4th year. Wake Forest simply will not perform well against physical teams, and I think this Clemson team is a prime example of a team who will just out-muscle us and "beat us up" on the glass. I'll take Clemson to win 60-50.
We thank Robert for joining us and sharing some great info on the Deacons. If you'd like to see our answers to his questions, they are posted on Blogger So Dear. For fans who cannot make it to Littlejohn, the game will be televised on the ACC Network. You can find your local affiliate here.