WINSTON SALEM NC - JANUARY 22: Travis McKie #30 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons reacts to a call on his way to loosing to the Duke Blue Devils 83-59 at Lawrence Joel Coliseum on January 22 2011 in Winston Salem North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Maryland's game against Wake Forest is only about four hours away, but if you're really jonesing for some basketball, we have a fix for you: the guys at Blogger So Dear were nice enough to sit down with us and discuss this evening's matchup. It's a bit belated, but it'll do just fine.
By now you know the drill. read on to find out what Wake fans are feeling about Jeff Bzdelik, their tempo, and the awesome duo of McKie and Harris.
Let's start with a more general question: I remember there being a lot of discontent at the hiring of Jeff Bzdelik. A year-and-a-half in (in basketball time), what's the general opinion of Bz and the direction of the program?
The jury is definitely still out on Bzdelik. When he was hired nearly a year and a half ago (which is really hard to believe at this point) there was a very stark contrast between those who were willing to give him a chance, and those fans who were so discontent with the hire that he would never get a fair shot from a portion of the fanbase. The fact that Wake had one of the worst seasons in the history of the ACC with an 8-24 record, along with only one conference win, only sharpened this divide even further with most fans shifting towards a "Bzz out" position. While the team this year has a couple of solid wins (Nebraska and Virginia Tech), most are still questioning whether or not has the ability and capacity to take a BCS-caliber team to the top half of the conference. I don't have any special insight to the situation, but I'm still in the "wait and see" camp of the fanbase. Most feel that the program hit rock bottom last year and is for the most part on the rise. The major question remains how quickly that rise will occur and how many hitches will be encountered on the way.
WF's rebounding numbers this year seem very pedestrian, which surprised me a bit given that they're one of the few programs in the country with two seven-footers on the roster. Is it a deal where Carson Desrosiers just hasn't rounded into his rebounding potential yet? Or is it more systematic from Bzdelik, preaching getting back instead of crashing the boards?
The rebounding issue continues to be a contentious point for the fans because as you said the fact that we have seven-footers anchoring the team at nearly every minute of the game continues to confuse everyone over how we are systematically beat on the glass on both ends of the floor. Against Virginia Tech the rebounds were dropping our direction and we were finally able to utilize our height to win the rebound game. Desrosiers is still coming into his own as a player and his rebounding continues to be a frustrating part of his development, but I have faith that with another year of ACC play his confidence and abilities will grow and he will be a solid inside man for the last two years of his career.
On the other hand Bzdelik appears to neither stress nor emphasize hitting the glass on the offensive side of the ball where in most cases only the 4 and 5 are moving towards the boards. This is frustrating, but by the same token probably somewhat necessary given the defensive lapses this team has been prone to throughout Bzdelik's tenure. Once again, the Virginia Tech game was a perfect mixture of defense stepping up and rebounds bouncing our direction which enabled us to grab a victory.
This may be inter-related to that question: one of Wake's weaknesses that will probably be challenged by the ACC schedule seems to be depth - it doesn't seem to me that the Deacons go much deeper than seven-deep, occasionally throwing an eighth guy a few minutes. How has this affected their tempo, which seems to oscillate between speedy and tortoise-paced? Is Bzdelik just trying to slow things down to conserve energy, especially with C.J. Harris and Travis McKie basically always on the court?
Wake continues to be some sort of an enigma with regards to tempo. For the most part we have been content (or forced, I guess it depends on your vantage point) to play the tempo of our opponents. According to KenPom Wake is the 66th fastest team in the nation with an average of 69.3 possessions per game (once adjusted for strength of schedule/tempo adjustment). This appears odd at face value because it certainly doesn't feel like Wake is pushing the ball, nor does it seem that Wake ever has too many fastbreak opportunities. You kind of get the feeling watching a Bzdelik coached team that he would prefer the team to play a more methodical half court offense with fewer possessions, but that the makeup of this specific team doesn't really allow it. Wake has had more success when the tempo has been slower (Win against Nebraska, a 59 possession game, and a win against Virginia Tech, a 62 possession game) but that could be a case of correlation and not causation.
Speaking of Harris and McKie, they seem like easily one of the better duos in the ACC. Neither seem like extraordinarily high-volume shooters, though (unlike, say, Terrell Stoglin, for whom "high-volume" might be an understatement). What makes them so dangerous? And has Wake's offense ever been stymied due to an over-reliance on the two of them?
Wake has certainly never suffered because of an over-reliance on either Harris or McKie. It sounds odd when looking at the numbers (both players take roughly a quarter of the team's shots when they are on the court) but a lot of the time I feel like they're not touching the ball enough. In the last game fans were getting disgruntled because Tony Chennault was driving down the lane and trying to take over the ballgame and Harris and McKie never saw the ball on several possessions in a row in the second half. With neither player taking over the point guard position during a large majority of the game, the team will actually fall into a rut where they don't see the ball which lowers our offensive efficiency.
Both players have distinctly different games, but are both sparked by an extremely high basketball IQ. Harris is really the only player on the team with the ability to create his own shot off the dribble and he has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the year. Harris is probably one of the most improved players in the conference from his freshman year in 2009-2010 and if we had one player to take a shot at the end of the game would certainly be it. McKie on the other hand has an uncanny ability to rebound the basketball and his game is largely predicated on effort and the foresight to be in the right place at the right time. When either of these players gets into foul trouble or misses the game (see Wake's loss to Wofford at home without C.J.) Wake is not going to win the game. It's not really even a question of "maybe we can sneak this one out", if one of them isn't on their game, we're not going to win.
Alright, prediction time. Who are you taking on Wednesday? Score appreciated but not required.
It's a little bit of biased home cooking style on this prediction, but I'm gonna take Wake 66-62. Bzdelik is 1-31 all-time on the road in conference games as a BCS coach, including a terrible 0-8 record last year), but I have a good feeling about this game. I also predicted a couple weeks ago we'd start 2-0 in the conference before sinking to around a 4-12 record on the year so I have to backup my internet cred by continuing to predict a win here. Wake's keys to victory surround getting the ball to McKie on the low block, Harris' ability to protect the ball and slash through the lane where he is incredible at drawing fouls, and Wake's general ability to not turn the ball over. If Wake comes out in an effective zone like we saw against the Hokies and Maryland tries to shoot us out of it, Wake will see far more success than if we sit back in man and let the Terps drive down the lane one on one. I think it will be a good game regardless, but do think we will pull off an upset.