Scouting Wake Forest
Wake Forest (11-3, 1-1 ACC) has played a string of close contests of late. After claiming back-to-back overtime wins against Richmond and Xavier, the Demon Deacons fell at Miami on Saturday by one point.
While some of the trends that have surfaced during that stretch bode well for Wake Forest in the near and distant future, some of them point to issues third-year coach Dino Gaudio would prefer be addressed and corrected sooner rather than later. Although they possess considerable frontcourt depth, the Demon Deacons intermittently have struggled with the more technical aspects of rebounding such as boxing out, which was one reason why they lost the battle of the boards Saturday agaisnt Miami.
"I'm hoping it was just Saturday night, because we're a pretty good rebounding team," Gaudio said Monday in a phone interview. "I'm hoping it was just an abberation."
On the bright side, sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu (6-foot-9, 215 lbs.) is developing into one of the premiere players in the conference. Aminu is averaging 16.8 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. He also has tallied 18 blocks and 19 steals.
"He's learned to become a better practice player, and I think that's why he's having the success that he's having," Gaudio said. "He's really bought into the work ethic and what it takes."
While Aminu heads up Wake Forest's efforts in the frontcourt, senior point guard Ishmael Smith (6-foot-0, 175 lbs.) orchestrates the Demon Deacons in the backcourt. Smith has been known as a capable penetrator for some time, but Gaudio said this season Smith has improved his decision-making on passes, which has made his drives into the lane all the more effective. Smith possesses a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio and is averaging 12.8 points per game.
Given that he's the team's second-leading scorer and that his forte is driving to the basket, Smith is certainly a player Wake Forest is going to want/need on the court at the end of a close game. And that makes his 43.9 shooting percentage from the free throw line all the more troubling for his coach. Gaudio said, however, that Smith has the proper mind-set to handle such struggles from the charity stripe.
"It's amazing, he's a kid like, if he'll miss a couple free throws he's a mature enough kid where it doesn't bother him in any other phase of his game," Gaudio said. "He doesn't dip his head, he doesn't put his head down, he doesn't let it affect any other part of his game. If one part of his game isn't going well, he'll still push the ball, he'll still get in there and rebound, he'll still defend, and you can't say that about a lot of kids."
Joining Smith in the backcourt is freshman guard C.J. Harris (6-foot-2, 175 lbs.), who came off the bench at the beginning of the season but eventually worked his way into the starting lineup. Gaudio said the addition Harris and reserve freshman forward Ari Stewart (6-foot-7, 205 lbs.) to the squad has addressed one of the critical questions surrounding the Demon Deacons entering the season.
"They've given us an added dimension," Gaudio said. "Coming into the season we needed to improve our three-point shooting, and those guys have done that."
Harris is shooting 46.9 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range, while averaging 11.6 points per game. Stewart is shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range, while averaging 8.1 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.
Senior guard L.D. Williams (6-foot-4, 210 lbs.) primarily serves as a strong defensive presence for Wake Forest out on the perimeter. Williams has tallied 30 steals. Additionally, Williams's offensive game has shown some development this season. He is averaging 9.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 54.1 percent from the field.
Providing the Demon Deacons some relief off the bench is junior guard Gary Clark (6-oot-4, 195 lbs.). Clark is averaging 4.8 points per game and is shooting 55.2 percent from the field.
Joining Aminu in the frontcourt is a combination of redshirt senior center David Weaver (6-foot-11, 250 lbs.) and senior center Chas McFarland (7-foot-0, 245 lbs.). Weaver is the stronger and more athletic of the two, though McFarland has a better offensive touch. Assuming he's not in foul trouble -- which is one of his bad habits -- McFarland is the one on the court down the stretch in close games, even though it is Weaver who typically starts. Weaver averages 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game, and McFarland averages 6.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. McFarland also has blocked 15 shots this season.
Wake Forest also can bring sophomore center Tony Woods (6-foot-11, 245 lbs.) off the bench. Woods is averaging 3.2 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
With all of Wake Forest's size, it should come as no surprise that the Demon Deacons own a +7.6 rebounding margin. But there are times -- such as Saturday against Miami -- when Wake Forest does not fully utilize one of its biggest strength. The Demon Deacons have not always guarded the defensive glass as closely as one might expect, given their length.
Additionally, Wake Forest has proven a bit turnover prone. The Demon Deacons are averaging 15.3 turnovers per game and own a -0.1 turnover margin. That stems in large part from the fact that outside of Smith and Harris, Wake Forest is not a particularly strong ball-handling team. Much like Florida State and Seminoles point guard Derwin Kitchen, Wake Forest's half-court offense can be disrupted if Smith is pressured and worn down.
As a team, Wake Forest is shooting 45.7 percent from the field, 33.0 percent from three-point range and 65.3 percent from the free throw line. The Demon Deacons, Gaudio said, are still most comfortable when able to push the pace and pile up points in transition.
"No question that's what we want to do," Gaudio said. "We're a fast-breaking basketball team, and that's what we want to keep doing."
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