LYNCHBURG, Va. — Wake Forest will be just fine.
Calm down everyone.
All is not lost.
The Demon Deacons got a win, their first of the season: A much-needed victory over Quinnipiac in the consolation round of the Paradise Jam Saturday, relocated from St. Thomas to Liberty University due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.The Demon Deacons are young and inexperienced at key positions. But this team has talent, enough that it will likely win enough games to be in the mix for a possible postseason bid (and yes that means the NCAA tournament still).
OK, so you want to start with losses to Georgia Southern and Liberty at home and Drake on a neutral court as bid-canceling defeats?
Well, if you’re really charting the season and this team, like the NCAA tournament selection committee will do, you’ll find out that all three of those losses came against teams that will likely challenge for their respective conference titles in the Sun Belt, Big South and Missouri Valley.
Oh, and did I mention this team is young?
Yes, they are making mental mistakes that can be corrected, as they did in their 72-55 win over Quinnipiac.
“We were frustrated,’’ said sophomore Bryant Crawford, who is billed as one of the nation’s top guards. “We felt like we gave up a lot of games due to effort and energy.’’
When watching tape of the loss to Drake it became obvious to the players that the rotations were off and they weren’t in the right spots, according to freshman Chaundee Brown. “But we’ll make a run.’’
The reason for the optimism is obvious if you watch this team.
Crawford, Brown, sophomore Brandon Childress, freshman Melo Eggleston, senior guard Mitchell Wilbekin and redshirt junior Keyshawn Woods can all score, make shots and get to the basket. They may not do it in the same game, but they have the ability to go to the hot hand if someone is off or out. Woods was benched Saturday by Wake Forest coach Danny Manning. Manning said it was a coach’s decision, but that Woods would be back Sunday to play against Houston in the fourth-place game.The frontcourt has size and depth that most teams would dream to have regardless of level.
The Demon Deacons can go with 7-1 junior Doral Moore, who is a beast to handle if he’s not in foul trouble with his reach and ability to rebound over the top and finish. And if Moore isn’t on the floor, then 7-foot freshman Olivier Sarr comes in and can be nearly as effective. Manning said don't forget about 6-8 freshman Sunday Okeke and 6-11 sophomore Sam Japhet-Mathias at center, too. That's a lot to choose from. Toss in 6-7 grad transfer wing Terrence Thompson and this team has all the pieces. Sure, they lost John Collins and Dinos Mitoglou, the former to the NBA first round and the latter to a Greek professional team. But they have talent — enough of it to make the NCAA tourney.
“It’s early in the season,’’ Manning said. “We’re all frustrated with the start we had. But we can control things and our attention to detail was really good.’’
The Demon Deacons had a sense of urgency, but they didn’t panic. The reason is Manning.
He doesn’t show his emotions too much. He won’t let Wake suddenly feel like it can’t overcome a slow start, a deficit, let alone a reason to think a successful season is lost.
“We’re trying to manage a game,’’ said Manning. “I want us to be successful in the game. That’s my mindset. Hopefully guys look at me and I am not out of control sitting on the sidelines and by that I’m giving them confidence by the way I’m carrying myself.’’
Manning said the Demon Deacons must get better defensively. This is a young team. They get it.
And playing a Houston team Sunday, one that has a big-time scorer in Rob Gray and will likely be a top-four finisher in the American this season, will push Wake like no other game so far.
Lose and the skeptics will emerge again. Win and suddenly all is right. Well, neither is true. Wake has a manageable schedule going forward, even if nothing should be taken for granted against Illinois, Richmond, Tennessee or road games at Charlotte and Coastal Carolina.
But by the time this team gets to the ACC opener at North Carolina on Dec. 30, Wake fans should expect the Demon Deacons to have figured out the rotations and who will finish games.
This team should be good to go and a factor for a bid.
“Any time a team goes through adversity it challenges you, especially early on,’’ Manning said. “It will make you better team.’’