Monday, September 29, 2008

No. 19 Wake Forest: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 17-13, 7-9 ACC (t-7th)

Key Losses: Noone

Key Returnees: James Johnson (14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Jeff Teague (13.9 ppg, 2.5 apg), LD Williams (8.9 ppg)

Newcomers: Al-Farouq Aminu, Tony Woods, Ty Walker

Wake Forest may have the best front line in the ACC (and one of the best in the country) by season's end. Leading scorer James Johnson, an athletic, 6'8" combo forward and the Demon Deacon's leading scorer last year, returns. At 235 lb, Johnson is big and strong, but also has enough ball-handling ability and a good enough jump shot to be able to score from the perimeter. He is at his best when he is able to face up his defender, although he does have a tendency to make poor decisions with the ball and force bad shots (that could change, however, as Wake Forest now has more offensive weapons). Also returning up front is 7-footer Chas McFarland (8.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg), who was much improved last year as a sophomore and can score inside and out, and Jamie Skeen, a thick 6'8" (250 lb) center who lost his starting spot to McFarland two games into last season and who also must sit out the fall semester because of academic issues.

The real reason that Wake Forest's front line could be so good by the end of the year is the three freshman they bring in. The best of the bunch is probably Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu is a fantastic athlete, and is 6'8" with a 7'4" wingspan, which means that throughout the year you will probably see him on Sportscenter's top 10 quite a bit. His ball skills (handle, jump shot) still need to be improved, and despite being listed as a small forward he is probably not quite ready for that spot in the ACC just yet. Tony Woods is a 6'11" center with a pretty good low-post game for his age. While he still is a bit uncoordinated, he is fairly athletic and has no problem attacking the rim and finishing with a dunk. Ty Walker, the tallest of the group (listed at 7'0"), has a ton of potential. He has a soft touch (both around the rim and out to about 15-17 feet), has a 7'6" wingspan, and is a great leaper, which makes him a huge shot-blocking threat.

While Wake Forest's front court is loaded, they return some very good players in their back court as well. The best of the bunch is sophomore Jeff Teague, who was Wake's second leading scorer last year at 13.9 ppg. The 6'2" Teague can do a little bit of everything, but is probably at his best when he is putting the ball on the floor and attacking (although he does have a tendency to get out of control - 2.5 t/o's per). He shot 40% from deep last year, but didn't shoot it too often (made 1 per game). Junior Ishmael Smith, the only player last year to start every game (at point), is a pretty good player, averaging 8.6 ppg and 4.3 apg. He, too, turns the ball over too much at almost three times per game, and (as you will see is a problem for Wake's guards) is an inconsistent three point shooter. LD Williams is Wake Forest's best defender, and at 6'4" is big enough to guards small forwards but also quick enough to match-up with point guards. Harvey Hale hit the most three's for Wake last year (45) but did so at a very underwhelming percentage (29%).

Outlook: As I said before, Wake Forest may have the best front line in college basketball when the season is done. They are big, talented, and deep. Their guard play is going to make the difference on whether or not Wake is actually a Final Four contender, or just the third or fourth best team in the ACC. If the back court can protect the ball and knock down open three's when defenses collapse inside on the bigs or on penetration, then Wake could be very, very good. But with a deeper three point line and average-at-best shooters, Wake will struggle against teams with similar size inside. They are probably a year away (depending on who goes pro).

No comments: