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Wake Forest at Clemson Basketball Preview: Q&A with Blogger So Dear

Clemson (2-4) and Wake Forest (1-5) will both be looking to bounce back following home losses when they meet in Littlejohn Coliseum. To bring us up to speed on the Wake Forest basketball program and Saturday's matchup, Riley Johnston of SB Nation's Wake Forest site, Blogger So Dear, joined us for a question and answer session.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

STS: Shakin the Southland
BSD: Blogger So Dear

STS: Wake Forest's offense hasn't improve from a year ago, at least not statistically, but the rebounding numbers show a drastic difference. Just a season ago, Wake Forest was only securing 66.3% of defensive rebounding opportunities (DR%), but now they're in the top five in the country at 76.2%. What has led to this change and would you say it's the biggest improvement the team has shown from a season ago?

BSD: The primary reason that Wake has improved there is we have a hard-nosed coach who demands that his team get after it on every single play. He has clicked with Devin Thomas, especially since ACC play started, and that has caused a big difference in interior rebounding. Playing out of a man-to-man usually makes it easier to find your man, box him out, and then grab the rebound. Since the Deacs play exclusively man-to-man that is a big reason as well. When you go from 281st in the country in to 3rd in the country in a years time in any category there are several things that can be attributed to it, but better coaching is the short and long of it.

Despite the offense not improving statistically (and actually at this point Wake Forest is six spots worse than where they finished last year), it is pretty clear to anybody that has watched Wake Forest play this year that the offense is much improved and in a good place moving forward. The players know exactly where the ball needs to go against man defense, as well as a 2-3 zone defense. The shots haven't fallen at times, but the better shooters on the team are taking the shots, which is a big change from the past four years.

STS: After hearing "Dan-ny Man-ning" chanted at a Wake Forest football game, I know your fan base adores the former Phoenix Suns player, now Demon Deacon head coach. It is simply a case of "he's not Bzdelik" that has made him a fan favorite, or has he connected with the fans in ways an outsider wouldn't recognize?

BSD: At first I would say that most people loved him because he was not Jeff Bzdelik. I was lukewarm about the hire and wanted to see what he brought to the table before I jumped to an opinion either way. Through 19 games this season the Deacs sit at 9-10, which isn't a good record, but there have been so many things that have improved with the program in a short amount of time. Wake got a win at Richmond, played Duke and Louisville close at home, and nearly beat Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

Manning has the players playing within themselves instead of asking all players to be all things. With the recruiting that Manning has done (top 20 class next) year, along with the freshmen he brought in this year in just three months time, the future is extremely bright for Wake Forest and I think everybody associated with the program realizes that as well. There is an actual plan in place instead of just blind hope that everything will magically fall into place at some point.

STS: How arduous is the rebuilding process at Wake Forest? Can he get it turned around by next season? Additionally, how long of a leash does he have in your book? Clemson fans have given Brownell five years and your just now starting to hear some discontentment.

BSD: Piggybacking off of the recruiting statement from the last question I would say that most are looking for improvement to the record moving into next season. Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas will be seniors, while the talented freshmen we have this year will get another year under their belt. I think that the Deacs can make the NCAA Tournament next year. That may not be how everybody is looking at it, or necessarily where the bar should be, but it is certainly a goal that is attainable. As with any basketball program in the ACC I think the rebuilding process takes as long as it takes to bring in elite talent. There are exceptions to the rule, but talent wins college basketball games and it is hard to win consistently in the ACC without 4 and 5 stars. Manning has already brought some of those guys in and he will keep doing so moving into the class of 2016.

Right now there is nothing to me that indicates Manning will be anything other than a success for Wake Forest basketball. He doesn't just talk the talk in the pre and post game, he walks the walk during games, and also has the team playing more like he wants. His post-game comments are refreshing and blunt. He gives credit where it is due and accepts blame when he needs to. Accountability is in the program now and that is something that was lacking the past four years.

STS: Clemson basketball has been extremely stressful and demotivating to follow this season because of their inconsistency (four losses to teams outside the KenPom top 125, but has two wins against top 50 teams). KenPom projects Wake Forest to finish at 13-18. In a season when the NCAA tournament is out the window and the NIT may be soon to follow, what are you looking for. Tell us what fans of a basketball school do to stay emotionally plugged in when the product on the court isn't giving them reason to be.

BSD: I think all Wake Forest fans are just looking for improvement from game to game and eventually start winning the close games when they are in position to do so. Wake held a lead with under five minutes against Duke, Louisville, and Syracuse, but lose all three of the games. As Manning has said time and time again, there are no moral victories and getting close isn't good enough. The stretch of five games coming up gives the Deacs a chance to get some wins under their belt before the really difficult stretch of games (UVA, ND, UVA, Pitt, Duke) later in the year.

I would argue that the product on the court right now does give Wake fans a reason to be plugged in. A solid foundation is finally being built moving forward to win on the basketball court. It is certainly a work in progress, but the Deacs play hard, rebound well, defend tenaciously, and usually the mistakes are those out of trying too hard instead of giving too little. The fans have picked up on that and are providing a lot of support for the team.

STS: Clemson is known for a stingy defense, but it's not one that forces turnovers. In fact, Clemson isn't even in the top 300 in defensive Turnover%. Wake Forest has the opposite problem, turning the ball over on 20.6% of possessions. Has there been a defense scheme that has given Wake Forest fits or are they largely unforced? Clemson has been mixing in much more 2-3 zone than in years past. Do you hope to see zone or man given the turnover issues?

BSD: While Wake Forest has struggled turning the ball over at times this year, they have been under their season average in 5 out of the last 6 games. As Mitchell Wilbekin becomes more comfortable handling the ball in the backcourt he has provided good minutes of turnover free basketball. Madison Jones struggles at times to protect the basketball and will usually make a boneheaded pass or two a game leading to turnovers, but he has also reigned it in a bit and provided solid minutes over the past three weeks. The primary turnover problems actually come from Devin Thomas, who has recorded four or more turnovers in seven games this year. The good thing about his turnovers are that they usually come in the travelling variety, which at least lets the defense get back and not become a transition situation.

The Deacs have faced mostly man-to-man defense this year, but actually thrived against the 2-3 zone in Syracuse. The team worked the ball well, found the short corner and hit three pointers when open. The Deacs struggled against the 2-3 zone of UNC due to the length that they presented. I feel good against a mix of zone and man because Danny Manning has showed that he can adjust on the fly and instruct the team where the ball needs to go to be productive.

STS: Finally, KenPom projects Clemson to win 65-62 with 65% confidence in the prediction. Clemson has been impossible to predict this season, but what can of performance should we expect from the Demon Deacons?

BSD: After two weeks of solid effort the Deacs came out somewhat flat against North Carolina on Wednesday night. I don't envision a Wake Forest team under Danny Manning coming out flat in two straight games, especially against a team that the Deacs have a reasonable shot at beating. I think it will be a very competitive game between the two teams. It's hard to know whether we will get the Clemson team that beat Syracuse or the one that lost to Florida State. Depending on which team shows up will go a long way in whether or not the Deacs can win this one.

I am actually going to take the Deacs to win this one 68-62 in a well fought battle down by Death Valley. Really because I am an eternal optimist more than anything. Hopefully both teams come out injury free and we see a good one.

STS: A big thank you to Riley for joining us for this Q&A session. The game will be played in Littlejohn at noon on Saturday and will be broadcast on the ACC Network and ESPN3. We will be posting a separate preview/gamethread article so please join us there during the game.