A coach's view on the Demon Deacons
There are two primary keys to defeating Wake Forest, according to a coach whose team already has faced the Demon Deacons this season: make it a half-court game and keep them off the offensive glass.
Based on their performance Sunday against Florida State, it would seem Maryland is primed to do both. The Terrapins showed continued progress in their half-court offensive efficiency and proved they could compete on the boards against an opponent that owned a considerable size advantage.
Wake Forest also possesses numerous big bodies, but the coach -- who was granted anonymity in return for a candid evaluation of an opposing team -- pointed out that the Demon Deacons' plus-7.6 rebounding margin might be a bit of a mirage.
"I think the reason why their rebounding numbers are so good is because of the nonconference schedule they played," the coach said. "Their size is tremendous, but if you look at their schedule across the board, those numbers are skewed because they dominated some of that competition that they should dominate because they're an ACC team. We got some offensive rebounds against them, and I wouldn't say that's our strength."
Wake Forest's top rebounder is sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu (6 feet 9, 215 pounds), a player the coach said appears far more comfortable in his role this season. Aminu is averaging a team-high 16.8 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.
"He attacks the offensive glass; he's a very good offensive rebounder," the coach said. "They run more plays for him. He has much more of a leash to kind of maybe get a rebound and push it up the court. Whereas he might not have done that as much last year. Get the ball on the perimeter, try to make a drive. They run some different plays for him where he isolates, because usually they have bigger guys guarding him. Either bigger guys guarding him on the perimeter because of his size, or an undersized guy, maybe someone who's as athletic as he is, but a little undersized and then they run post-ups or lobs over the top plays for him because of his size."
As for freshman forward Ari Stewart (6-7, 205 pounds), the coach gave high marks for a player he called "a big-time shooter."
Stewart is starting and playing considerable minutes now, but that was not the case from the start of the season. The freshman's minutes have increased as his value to the team has become more apparent, according to the coach, who said the same point could be made for freshman guard C.J. Harris (6-2, 175 pounds).
In three straight games from Nov. 28 to Dec. 5, Wake Forest played William & Mary at home, at Purdue and at Gonzaga. Harris tallied 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc off the bench against William & Mary. He tallied 14 points off the bench at Purdue. Harris was moved into the starting lineup against Gonzaga and scored 19 points. Stewart, meantime, registered 17 points off the bench against the Zags. Since then, Harris has become a fixture in the starting lineup, and Stewart has seen his minutes steadily rise.
"They had a lot of length [in their lineup early in the season], but they didn't have a lot of shooters out there," the coach said. "Harris is starting now and he's getting more minutes. He's a good shooter. With Harris and Stewart in at the same time, they're probably two of their best perimeter shooters that are getting minutes. So I think that's the reason why Stewart's minutes have increased, because they see that teams can't help as much on the inside guys and can't help as much on drives when he's in the game."
Stewart is shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range, while Harris is shooting 46.9 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range.
As for Harris's back-court mate, senior point guard Ishmael Smith (6 feet, 175 pounds), the coach described him as "extremely quick" with ballhandling and penetration skills that are "impressive." However, the coach said Wake Forest has become dependent on Smith, and to a lesser extent Harris, to facilitate its offense. When the ball's not in Smith's hands, the likelihood of a turnover increases significantly. Although Smith owns a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio, the Demon Deacons average 15.3 turnovers per game.
"I think a lot of everything they do is if Ish doesn't get the ball, I think they can be bothered a little bit more on the perimeter," the coach said. "Like a pressing team, if they can kind of neutralize Smith and get the ball out of his hands and make some of those other guys make the decisions, then I think they could have some success on them."
Know of any teams that like to apply stifling defensive pressure?
Wake Forest is a bit of a statistical oddity when it plays defense. The Demon Deacons rank third among ACC teams in field goal percentage defense (36.4 percent) and first in the ACC in three-point field goal percentage defense (24.7 percent). However, Wake Forest ranks No. 11 in the conference in scoring defense (65.2 points per game allowed).
The coach said the low shot percentages allowed has much to do with Wake Forest's size. The Demon Deacons simply can alter shots at a higher rate than most other teams due to its superior length.
"Their size can allow you to shoot a bad percentage," the coach said. "But I don't think they really care to defend for long stretches at a time, so if you're a little bit more patient on offense, I think you can get good shots, and that's why teams end up scoring on them."
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