Yes, I do still blog. You mean y’all haven’t noticed all my recent posts?
To say it’s been a busy six months would be an understatement. That said, I have no excuse for not filling up this space on the Interwebs with angry posts about ACC football, basketball and other sports topics. I’ll try to do better. Notice I didn’t say “I will do better.” Anyway, on to Wake Forest vs. NC State, a Saturday showdown in the RBC Center that should really get the blood flowing. Given the back-and-forth game the two played in January (wait, what?), I fully expect another barn burner in Raleigh this weekend.
Many thanks to Martin Rickman, owner and site manager of the fine Wake Forest site Blogger So Dear, for contacting me about doing a Q&A preview of tomorrow’s game. My questions are in bold. To find my answers to his questions, go here.
1. A lot went wrong for the Deacons when NC State came to Winston-Salem last month, but in your opinion, what were the one or two things Wake did or didn’t do that kept it from being a competitive 8-15 point game? How did it become the atrocity it did early in the second half? Essentially, what the heck did Wake do wrong? It can’t be just a bad matchup.
Aside from being a bad offensive team that doesn’t rebound, Wake rebounded even less and shot especially poorly in this one. Usually if you do neither of those things you’re going to lose, especially if you were facing a matchup nightmare on paper as Wake was with State. N.C. State is more physical, more athletic and much more efficient offensively than the Demon Deacons. With that said, State was able to get easy buckets in transition, have balanced scoring and hit a solid amount of outside shots – as Wake continued time and again to miss shots and waste possessions. The deficit ballooned, and once Travis McKie was ejected, it just got uglier.
2. Not to keep bringing up the game in Winston-Salem, but what happened on the Travis McKie elbow and ejection? What was his or Bzdelik’s explanation?
It just looks like McKie was in the wrong place in the wrong time, honestly. He has no history of a temper. He just plays hard. On this one, he had the ball stripped and it looked like he flailed his arms when he lost the ball, inadvertently knocking Scott Wood (albeit rather solidly) in the face. Elbow to face leads to a flagrant a lot of the time, and it’s a tough call to make. Dan Collins broke down the play pretty well in his blog, including this quote from McKie:
“When people look up to you to lead this team and carry the load of this team and you don’t do it and on top of that you get ejected it’s so sad,’’ McKie said. “So this is probably the worst game of my college career. This is a bad loss for us but I think this is a turning point for me individually. I think I need to do a lot more things off the court and on the court to help myself and my team get better. So I have to change.”
3. Are you surprised with how things have gone for the Deacons this season? Expectations were certainly tempered because of the somewhat rocky offseason, but I’m not sure many saw this type of situation playing out.
Surprised? No. Disappointed? Yes. Although they’ll still finish with around the same amount of wins as I predicted (between 12-15), I was really hoping for more improvement out of this team. I was really hoping they’d prove me wrong, play over their heads, and that removing the undesirable elements of the team (which were also largely the most talented players) would lead to more cohesion and a more efficient offense that would be competitive, but lose late due to a lack of depth. That would show that the team is not merely playing poorly with their personnel, but that they were being “coached up.”
Instead, the team gets blasted around the 15-minute mark in the second half, teams are letting off the gas, and Wake is getting backdoor covers, if they cover the spread at all. We were fed this line over and over about how terrific an Xs and Os coach Jeff Bzdelik is, and if he had the players he wanted, he’d be fine. So, he removed the ones that didn’t “fit,” and the offense is still struggling to get to 60 points every game.
There are a couple pleasant surprises – the road win against Nebraska, the close loss to Dayton, the VT win, etc. – but for every one of those essentially “overachieving” performances, there has been a clunker (State, Arizona State, Duke, UNC, Florida State, Wofford, only beating Yale by a point, almost losing to High Point, et al), and right now, the team is on a real skid, losing six of seven by an average of 18 points with the lone win coming against epically bad Boston College.
4. What young players have impressed you during a tough season?
C.J. Harris and Travis McKie for their ability to keep their heads held high, play hard every game and become leaders. These two players deserve so much better. Harris came in a class with 4* Ari Stewart right after the AT&T (Aminu, Woods, Walker) class and McKie was recruited in a balanced five player class that, although overrated, was still supposed to be a solid class. A lot went wrong after that. I really feel for them.
Aside from those two, I like how Ty Walker has matured as a senior. He was a question mark coming into this year and was suspended from the team for the first semester. If the Deacs don’t have the effort out of Ty that they’ve been getting, the losses would be even worse.
I also have seen nice spurts (but would like to see more) from freshman Chase Fischer. The kid just needs more confidence. This team is awful, so taking an ill-advised shot or making a bad decision isn’t going to end up costing them games. He has a blank slate. He just needs to play within himself and start having fun. He is thinking too much. I wish I could trust Bzdelik to get through to him on that.
5. What’s the feeling regarding Jeff Bzdelik at this point? From afar, it almost feels like sympathy combined with an understanding that he’s in an extremely tough situation. What’ the mood like in Winston-Salem? Are people as understanding as they probably should be?
It is sympathy, almost to a fault. Some people want Ron Wellman to be right so badly, and don’t want to admit that Wake’s coach is bad that they’re going to great lengths to make excuses for the guy. Others never gave him a chance to begin with because he was an unsexy hire, he has zero NCAA Tournament wins, he has a horrific record in February/March, and he’s 59 years old.
The mood in the ACC at large about Wake Forest, and in Winston-Salem, is apathy. You could see it in spades at the Joel against UNC this week. The place was almost 60 percent baby blue. Many media members and analysts mentioned the sad, pathetic state that the place was in. This in the same venue that was rocking and ended in a court-storming over the Heels just three years ago.
The hiring was underwhelming and rushed. Dino was fired on Wednesday, and Jeff Goodman reported on Friday that Bzdelik was hired. Fans were angry and confused. They saw Gaudio’s firing as the Wake Forest athletic department taking a shot at a big gun and taking the team to the next level, then were left with a coach many casual fans had never even heard of.
And then the spin cycle started: the “culture change” line was thrown in, there was an “article” of quotes detailing all of Bzdelik’s friends and his achievements. All while Bzdelik kept the Wake assistants to hold onto a top ten recruiting class that brought the team eight total wins, had legal/academic problems and all of a sudden, the scorched earth policy was in full effect as a bevy of players walked out (or were shown) the door.
Sympathy is a good word for it because no one truly wanted to see this happen to a once-proud and storied program. There have been good moments, but it has been largely tragedy since that fateful day when Skip Prosser decided to go for a run in July of 2007. Fans have a ton of emotional baggage they are still working through. It manifests itself in a variety of ways – self-deprecation, dark humor, anger, delusional thoughts – but at the end of the day it’s mostly sadness and the idea of what could have been. We lost a great one in Skip, and coaches (as well as human beings) like him don’t come around very often.
6. What player will be responsible for making the second meeting of the season closer than the first?
McKie. He has a lot to make up for from the last meeting in which he scored just two points and was ejected. He’s been struggling a bit lately; his shot is off and he is forcing things. He needs to be focused and have a solid night against State’s talented wings.
6. Let’s hear a prediction. Final score? Maybe leading scorers for both teams?
State should be able to handle this one again, although I don’t see Wake falling as flat as in the first meeting in Winston-Salem. The Deacs have had a really difficult time scoring of late, and need to at least shoot 40 percent to keep this thing under double-digits against athletic players like Williams, Leslie, Brown and Howell. A solid performance out of Wood would really tip the scales in N.C. State’s favor as well. I think Leslie gets 20 and C.J. Harris leads the Deacs with 18.
As for a prediction, let’s say, Pack wins 76-58.