About Wake Forest
Wake Forest University is a private Division-I school located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It’s actually a fairly small school, with just over 7,500 undergraduates. The Demon Deacons compete in the Atlantic Coastal Conference.
In the past 10 years, Wake Forest’s basketball program has only been to three NCAA tournaments, with an at-large bid last season as an 11-seed being the first trip in seven years. The program has produced several big NBA names in the past, most notably the Houston Rockets’ Chris Paul and the recently retired Tim Duncan, of the San Antonio Spurs.
What They Did Last Year
The Demon Deacons are coached by Danny Manning, who is in his fourth year at the helm. In Manning’s first two seasons, the Demon Deacons had a combined 24-39 record and won just five games in the ACC.
Things began to turn around last year. Wake Forest finished the year with a 19-14 record, going .500 in conference play at 9-9. They did receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament as an 11-seed, but the Deacons lost in the play-in game versus Kansas State (shoutout to Bruce Weber).
During the season, Wake Forest was 1-4 versus the AP top-25 teams. Granted, the losses were against some of the most elite competition in the nation, being in the ACC. The Demon Deacons lost to the likes of Florida State, Duke, North Carolina and Villanova. Some of their losses were actually close, including a home loss to No. 17 Duke (85-83) and No. 11 UNC (93-87).
Wake Forest only played one Big Ten team, Northwestern, in the Big Ten-ACC challenge. They lost to the Kitties (lest us not forget, Illinois beat Northwestern twice last year).
All in all, there weren’t any terribly impressive wins or embarrassing losses. In reviewing their schedule, I would say Wake Forest was incredibly uninteresting as a whole last season. They did have two losses to Clemson, who finished 6-12 in the ACC and didn’t make the tournament.
Other than that, nothing of note.
Key Losses and Additions
It’s always a struggle for a team to lose their leading scorer. Wake Forest has had to deal with that issue this year, as they lost John Collins to the NBA draft earlier this year. Collins, a 6-foot-10 forward, averaged 19.2 points and added nearly 10 boards for the Demon Deacons, was selected 19th overall by the Atlanta Hawks. The only other notable players that left were Konstantinos Mitoglou (6-foot-10, 245 pounds), who left to sign with a professional club in Greece and accounted for nine points and six rebounds per game, and Austin Arians (6-foot-6), who graduated.
Manning and his staff, much like Underwood, added a graduate transfer to help ease the loss of a few important losses. Terrance Thompson, who graduated from Marshall, joined for his final year of eligibility. So far he has not had a huge impact on the team, contributing just a few points each game. He is, however, second on the team with 5.3 rebounds per game.
The man who has emerged from the vacuum left by Collins has been Keyshawn Woods, a 6-foot-3 junior guard. He has averaged 17 points through six games this year. Statistically, he doesn’t have any significant contributions outside of scoring. Still, the season is young, and he could continue to improve. He had a season-high 20 points on Nov. 24 against UNC-Greensboro on 6-of-9 shooting, which included 3-of-4 from three-point land. He’ll be someone who Underwood undoubtedly will be planning matchups on defense around. Woods is the most likely candidate to go off on the Illini.
Additionally, Michael Finke and Leron Black will need to find ways to corral Doral Moore, a 7-foot-1 center. People were complaining about the rebounding effort in the N.C. Central game — the Illini were outrebounded by the MEAC’s Eagles by one at the half. To keep the game within reach, Finke and Black will need to start crashing the boards. Hopefully guys like Mark Smith and Mark Alstork can get involved in that department, as well.
Wake Forest has had a slow start to this year, but this game is made so much more interesting due to the recent commitment of Ayo Dosumnu to Illinois over Danny Manning and the Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest has not shown that it can consistently win under Manning. In his third season, the team was just alright, even with a top-20 NBA draft pick on the roster. They have already suffered bad losses this season to Georgia Southern (85-83 on Nov. 10), Liberty (79-66 on Nov. 14) and Drake (77-74 on Nov. 17).
Wake Forest is desperate for a decent win as they look ahead to the ACC regular season, currently with a 2-4 record. Woods and the towering Doral Moore will cause matchup issues for the Illini, but I can’t see Underwood letting this one slip away. It’s likely that Wake Forest will lead at the half, but expect a similar ending to the N.C. Central game with guys like Finke stepping up to pull Illinois ahead down the stretch
Illinois 79, Wake Forest 74.