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ACC Preview # 2 - Wake Forest

N.C. State | Wake Forest | UNC | Maryland | Clemson | Virginia | Virginia Tech | Georgia Tech | Florida State | B.C. | Miami | Duke

Well, let's just get this out front and be done with it: Wake Forest is going to be a pain in the ass this season and for the foreseeable future.  That said, there are still some questions to answer, and we'll get to those in a bit.

Wake has the great luxury of four really solid big guys.  We've followed 7'0" Chas McFarland since he was a high school junior because we loved his attitude about taking on AAU teammate Greg Oden.  He never backed down.  He can be a bit of a hothead, but he's passionate and tough, and is on a significant arc of improvement.

At 6'11",  David Weaver is a gifted athlete who ran track in high school but who hasn't yet established himself. But he's big and he can run and those guys don't come around that often.  Tony Woods is a highly promising 6'11" big man who is physically mature and who can score, rebound and block shots.  And you can say all of that and more about 7'0" Ty Walker, who is said to be the best shot-blocking big man in the freshman class.  He has a standing reach of 9'5" which makes blocking shots a lot easier.

They're all at least 6'11", so call them all centers even though they can't all play there.  What an unbelievable luxury for Dino Gaudio.

No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Cl.
4 Harvey Hale Guard 6-3 195 SR
42 L.D. Williams Guard 6-4 210 JR
31 Jamie Skeen Forward 6-8 250 JR
10 Ishmael Smith Guard 6-0 175 JR
44 David Weaver Forward-Center 6-11 240 RS JR
13 Chas McFarland Center 7-0 235 JR
2 Gary Clark Guard 6-4 200 SO
23 James Johnson Forward 6-9 245 SO
0 Jeff Teague Guard 6-2 180 SO
40 Ty Walker Center 7-0 215 FR
1 Al-Farouq Aminu Forward 6-9 215 FR
55 Tony Woods Center 6-11 245 FR

Al-Farouq Aminu might be better than all of them.  At 6'9", he's not as big, but he's very gifted and versatile, and for coolness, you can't beat the fact that his name means "the chief has arrived." We'll be disappointed if Wake students don't do something with that.Pair him with last year's phenom, James Johnson, who Wake is now listing at 6'9", up an inch from his rookie season, and Wake's frontcourt talent grows overwhelming.  

Johnson, who was one of the three primary candidates for ACC Freshman of the Year last season, is remarkably versatile. And while Aminu might be the new chief, the ACC's only blackbelt is, by definition, the sheriff, because no one in their right mind is going to pick a fight with him. Like several of his teammates, he's a guy with a bright NBA future.

The biggest question they may have up front is what to do with 6'8" junior Jamie Skeen, who may move to the end of the rotation after having been a key player to this point in his career.

In the backcourt, Wake has Ishmael Smith at the point, who is freakishly quick. 

Jeff Teague is not far behind in quickness, and while Smith handles the point, Teague is a natural born killer at the position himself.  But he's done very well as the secong guard, and by the end of Wake's season may have been their best player.

Wake has an extraordinarily quick backcourt, and that's not counting Harvey Hale and L.D. Williams, who aren't as quick (and that's not a knock, because not many guys are) but who are as tough as anyone around.  Both of them are superb defenders, and Williams is athletic enough to play small forward if needed. Gary Clark is pretty far down the rotation from where we sit, but he's talented, too.

Really, it's hard to argue with Wake's talent. It's superb, and you almost wonder how they pulled this off.  Dave Odom, who spent years complaining about how hard it was to recruit at Wake, must be pulling out what little of his hair remains.

But there are some real questions that have to be answered. 

One of them is the classic dilemma of a team where the most talent is new and young.  Some of the older players, without question, are going to see their minutes sliced.  McFarland, Weaver, Skeen, and Hale could well end up at the end of the bench, and if you've followed basketball for long, you know that can be disastrous.  Most recently we saw it happen at State; it's happened at UNC and Maryland, among others.

And no matter how good freshmen are, only the most unusual players don't buckle at some point.  Derrick Rose had a superb tournament until the second half of the title game last year.  It's very hard to make that leap, and even harder to deal with serious game pressure. 

And then there's Dino Gaudio.  The rookie coach did a brilliant job under very trying circumstances last season, but he also had immense support from Wake fans and his players, who were still reeling after the shocking death of coach Skip Prosser.

And it wasn't just Wake Forest.  Fans from around the conference wished them well; it's safe to say that Wake was everyone's second team last season. 

That's pretty much over now, and Wake will not have the raw emotional push that it had last year.  No one is going to forget Prosser, but the profound emotional unity that resulted from his death will fade. 

Gaudio managed not just to keep his team together, but to have them not too far from a tournament bid.  He also corrected a serious Prosser weakness, which was that his Wake teams were seldom frightening defensively.

This year, Wake's defense could be startling: what happens when you can back up four solid perimeter defenders, all of whom are incredibly quick and athletic - take your pick, they're all good - with not one, not two, not three, but four shotblockers and two forwards who are also remarkably quick and athletic? And you can take your pick again and mix and match.

Scoring on Wake is going to be very difficult, and with the three point shot moving back, it puts a renewed premium on the inside game, which plays to their strengths.

One area where Gaudio differs from his mentor is in the running game. He's a little more cautious than Prosser, a little more interested in stopping people than in blowing by them.

With this team, though, if he doesn't run, and run like his life depended on it, he's nuts and won't be in coaching much longer.  It's conceivable that, with the shotblockers they have, and the speed they have on the perimeter, that this could be an absolutely overwhelming bunch.

If Wake can manage to keep everyone happy, or at least non-insurrectional, they have the potential to beat anyone on their schedule, and that includes Duke and UNC.  Their biggest weakness, really, is youth, but even that's mitigated:  Jeff Teague could reasonably replaced by a senior (Hale), and while some of the new kids might replace McFarland,  he's been around the block now and at the absolute worst is a huge resource coming off the bench. Aminu can rely on Johnson, who was a superb freshman.

It's going to be a really fun team to watch, and while they'll have a job trying to keep everyone happy, it won't shock us at all to see the Deacs turn into a truly imposing team by the end of the season.  Watch out.