Early season nonconference games are typically very unpredictable. No matter how many previews are written, you are never really sure how good a college basketball team is going to be until they put it all on the court. As we look toward tomorrow's opponent, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, they are one of the more unpredictable teams in the nation because they lost two first draft picks from a season ago but still return plenty of talent. Playing in the ACC, it's obvious that Wake has little room for error so they are hoping to get quality wins early that can boost them through to conference play. Tomorrow's game against Gonzaga has become increasingly important for Wake because they are on a mini-slide, having lost two straight games. To help us understand their team a bit more, we decided to do a little Q&A with one of our partners at SB Nation, Blogger So Dear, a website dedicated to Wake Forest athletics. They have provided us with some remarkably insightful answers to our questions. Enjoy!
The Slipper Still Fits: Jeff Teague and James Johnson leaving early for the NBA was obviously a huge loss for Wake on a number of different levels. How has Dino Gaudio adapted to make up for the loss of those two stars?
Blogger So Dear: It's obviously going to be difficult and the biggest thing to adapt to is the loss of scoring. With two go-to guys last year, Gaudio needs to find who will at least mask that loss. One way to alleviate some of that is with the growth of Aminu as he sees his role increase on the team. He has to learn how to become a leader and that is going to take a bit of time.
He is also toying around with different lineups. CJ Harris has been a pleasant surprise, so he is starting to get extra minutes and Gaudio is trying to see if he wants to go extra big (with Woods and McFarland at the 4 and 5) or with a three guard lineup, shifting Aminu to the 4.
the interview with BSD continues after the jump...
TSSF: Our blog was initially founded to cover different recruiting angles at Gonzaga. I think a class that will go down in our memories as one of the most special was the Wake Forest class of 2008. Obviously, on the surface the class was loaded with three five-star players all in the front court. It was also very special because all three stayed committed to the program following Skip Prosser's passing. Al-Farouq has been a player but I expected Tony Woods and Ty Walker to have more of an impact. Can you talk about their development and what is being expected of them?
BSD: This is a hot topic right now on our end of things too. Keeping AFA was a huge boost after losing Skip and the future looked really bright with those three and sophomores Johnson and Teague. Aminu has been what we hoped--he made great strides throughout the year and him coming back was huge for this team.
As to Woods and Walker, those two were very high in potential but were not polished. Woods needed bulk and post moves, and that is still in development. He worked very hard over the summer, but it still looks as though his brain is a step or two ahead of his body in terms of what he is trying to do.
Walker needed to gain a ton of weight too and has done some of that, but he is really a work in progress. In high school, he just needed to roam the middle and block shots and his height allowed him to get to the hoop easily against smaller high school defenders. But he has a lot to learn on both sides of the court and it is going to continue to take time. The potential is still there, but it is slow going.
TSSF: I wanted to get a bit more in depth regarding Al-Farouq Aminu. He seems like a dynamic character that is just oozing basketball skill and athleticism. Has he been asked to increase his leadership on this inexperienced team and has he made the jump you were hoping to see?
BSD: This isn't easy to answer in a few words. Aminu had it pretty easy last year because he was not asked to be the go-to guy on a team that had two stars, so he could develop and play without a whole lot of pressure on him. He got better every game, most notably by playing within himself and more under control. He was so used to dominating in high school that the nuances of the game did not exactly take center stage.
Over the summer, Aminu knew there were various things he needed to get better at, a big part of that being the reason that he came back for his sophomore season. He is working on his ball-handling and shooting a lot. The shooting looks better so far, the ball-handling still needs help. He is a very gifted passer and his athleticism allows him to make unbelievable plays. The one thing that he needs to do a better job of is to get into the takeover role that you see out of the elite players. He has shown spurts, but has not made himself "the" guy yet.
TSSF: We're big fans of freshmen making a big impact at Gonzaga. At Wake, you have two freshmen that have already made their way into the rotation and are producing. Talk about what our fans should expect from C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart and how they fit what Wake is trying to do.
BSD: CJ Harris has been an incredible surprise for the Demon Deacons. We knew he'd be a solid player this year but did not exactly know what his role would be. He has shown a ton of maturity, is shooting the basketball well and is playing decent defense. He does a good job of getting to the hoop on drives as well. He needs to get better at reducing his turnovers and not fouling as much, but those are really chaulked up to being a freshman.
Stewart has shown flashes, but is not quite used to the speed of the college game yet. He is an incredible athlete and a complete player and it is only going to be a matter of time before he becomes a big contributor.
Konner Tucker is our third newcomer. The Kentucky recruit played a year of JuCo ball at the point and has shown to be a good shooter with some size on the wing. He hasn't been healthy so we haven't been able to get an accurate read yet on what his impact will be.
TSSF: We feel like great teams always have four or five players that can toss a team on their back and take them to victory. I love what Ish Smith does for this team and obviously Aminu is a budding star. Is Dino Gaudio still waiting to see if any other players on this team take that step up and become consistently solid contributors?
BSD: He is. And that's why we are where we are right now. Ish is what he is, Aminu is there, but outside of that we need a couple more players to do more than what is expected of them. LD Williams is a tremendous defender, but tries to do too much sometimes on the offense side of the ball. When he settles down, he has a great game (see the Purdue game for example), but he needs to stick to what he does best--rebound, defend, get garbage buckets and use his athleticism.
CJ Harris is looking like he could be a big cog in all of this if he continues to play like he has been. If he keeps shooting well and can spell Ish at the point as well as playing with him at SG, this will really give the team better minutes and some more scoring.
So that leaves another player or two. And that's where our biggest problem and what could also be our biggest strength comes in. We have all these bigs but none of them are consistent. Chas McFarland is our most polished center, but he does not get enough touches to be effective, tends to have a bit of a temper and is really slow when he rotates on defense.
David Weaver is extremely athletic and quick, but has a tendency to try and do too much and is not a real scorer offensively. Woods has trouble catching the ball and has a propensity to travel, so he takes himself out offensively. And Walker does not get a ton of minutes (and did not even make it on the plane against Purdue). So for all this talent, someone really needs to step up for this team to be a "great" team.
I wish I could be in the stands tomorrow when Wake takes the court. After following their recruiting for the past few years, I would wager that this team will be the largest and most physically imposing team that has ever graced the McCarthey Athletic Center not wearing blue, white, and red. Wake has an abundance of height at each position and definitely pass the eye test.
It's still hard for me to believe that Coach Few and the staff got Dino Gaudio the Demon Deacons to agree to play at the MAC. It should be an outstanding match up between two teams that are obviously riding different waves but will bring plenty of emotion into the game. Tip off is at 2:30 PST, our game thread will be up at 2. Look forward to seeing you here! Go Zags!