Wednesday, December 27, 2006

ACC Preview #4: Wake Forest

Team: Wake Forest
Record: 7-4 (0-1 ACC)

Kyle Visser (69.4% minutes, 1.33 PPWS, 12.5 ORB%, 18.8 DRB%, 3.1 Blk%)
Ishmael Smith (69.7% minutes, 1.13 PPWS, 33.6 A/B%, 2.8 Stl%, 2.03 A/TO)
L.D. Williams (59.3% minutes, 1.14 PPWS, 10.1 DRB%, 3.1 Stl%)
Michael Drum (57.3% minutes, 1.20 PPWS, 13.0 DRB%)
Jamie Skeen (63.1% minutes, 1.24 PPWS, 8.3 ORB%, 13.4 DRB%, 2.9 Stl%, 2.4 Blk%)

Key Reserves:
Harvey Hale (46.1% minutes, 1.05 PPWS)
Anthony Gurley (36.4% minutes, 0.94 PPWS)
Shamaine Dukes (29.0% minutes, 0.84 PPWS, 16.3 A/B%, 14.4 DRB%)
Kevin Swinton (23.4% minutes, 1.10 PPWS, 15.7 ORB%, 19.7 DRB%, 2.0 Blk%)
David Weaver (22.0% minutes, 1.18 PPWS, 12.8 DRB%, 4.2 Blk%)

Biggest Win:
88-78 over Vanderbilt. Although the 88-78 win over Appalachian State is starting to look alright after the ‘Neers romped through San Juan (including a win over Vanderbilt)

Worst Loss:
58-94 in a thorough whooping by Air Force.

Conference Schedule:
Play Twice: Miami, NC State, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech
Play at Home: Maryland, Boston College, Clemson
Play on the Road: Virginia Tech, Duke, Florida State

Wake Forest is easily the youngest team in a young conference. Over 50% of all their minutes go to freshmen, and 3 of the 5 starters (and 3 of the top 4 in playing time) are in their first year. Kyle Visser is the only player with more than 1 year of experience, since Michael Drum didn’t play before his junior year and the other three in the rotation are sophs. Given the team’s youth and inexperience, it’s likely to be a rough rebuilding year in Winston-Salem. Already it’s been an up and down season – 5 straight wins, followed by 4 losses in a row, and now 2 consecutive victories to end up at 7-4.

Wake is at 7-4 primarily because of two people. First and foremost is senior center Kyle Visser. He basically had no other option but to be the man this year, and the man he has been. Visser scores 34% of Wake’s points while on the floor by shooting 68% from the field. He’s also been a horse on the glass, and is in the top 10 in the conference in both offensive and defensive rebounding. And he leads Wake with 14 blocks. He has simply taken over games this year in a way that Eric Williams never could, and has been effective even in the Deacon losses – Visser has yet to shoot under 50% in a game this season. The one place he has struggled this year is at the stripe, posting only a .588 FT%.

The other catalyst to Wake’s season has been 5’11”, 155 pound freshman Ishmael Smith. Smith has been the starting point guard from day 1 on campus, and has shown a natural ability to distribute. He leads the ACC in A/B%, responsible for dishing out over a third of the team’s field goals, and racking up 71 assists (nearly 10 per 40 minutes). Smith has also been a reliable shooter for Wake, knocking down 55% of his 2s and 48% of his 3s, for a very nice .595 efg%. Still, Smith has had the ups and downs one might expect from a freshman point guard, including an 8 turnover game against Georgia. In the 4 game losing streak, Smith put up just 27 points and 19 assists against 17 turnovers. Still, Smith is unquestionably the point guard of both present and future (and I bet Prosser wishes past, too – the thought of Ish Smith feeding Eric Williams and Justin Gray is pretty).

6’4” freshman L.D. Williams has also started every game in his young Deacon career. Williams does a little bit of everything – average shooting and rebounding, slightly below average assists (though an A/TO ratio over 1), and very nice steal numbers. Lately filling out the starting lineup with him have been 6’6” senior Michael Drum and 6’8” freshman Jamie Skeen. I like Drum – I think he’s a great complementary piece to a team, who does just enough to make the opponent think about him every once in a while. He’s already had three 13-point games this year, knocking down 3 threes in two of them. Still, there’s no earthly way he should be starting for an ACC team, and it’s kind of a sad state of ACC basketball when it’s apparent he could probably start not just for Wake, but for 2 other ACC squads as well. Skeen has performed extremely well so far – the number 2 freshman behind Smith. He has been a little up and down (four games between 12 and 16 points, five between 0 and 7), and his turnovers are a little high, but he rebounds well, distributes some, steals, and blocks shots. Skeen has also been a good outside shooter this year, hitting 43% of his trey attempts.

6’2” sophomore Harvey Hale has been the 6th man off of a bench that has been ineffectual all year. Hale is actually 2nd on the team in scoring percentage (22.1%), but his PPWS is only 1.05 and his efg% an ugly .458. Hale played a lot last year as an out of place point guard, and so far this year his performance has shown how out of place he was. Hale loves to shoot, and has only a 5.0% A/B ratio and two turnovers for every assist. Hale’s partner at young point guard last year was 6’1” soph Shamaine Dukes. Unlike Hale, Dukes actually is a point guard, and he’s second on the team in A/B% (albeit in more limited minutes). His shooting off the bench has been dismal though, as he’s only been able to put together a 0.84 PPWS. The last of the three perimeter players off the bench is 6’3” freshman Anthony Gurley. Gurley is a plain gunner – he takes more shots while he’s on the floor than Visser does. However, he can’t hit the basket from outside – 8 of 35 on the year (22.9%) from 3. Gurley’s PPWS is only 0.94. Hale, Dukes, and Gurley have all been black holes off the bench this year. As a group, the percentage of shots they take is 16.5% more than the percentage of scoring they account for. Not good.

The interior reserves have been far more effective, though their minutes have been more limited. 6’7” sophomore Kevin Swinton and 6’10” redshirt freshman David Weaver have been very solid inside. Swinton really eats up the glass, and sports a very solid .615 efg%. Weaver lacks a little in the rebounding department, but he can block shots – 6 on the season in the equivalent of just 2.5 full games. Two other interior players, 6’6” soph Cameron Stanley and 7’0” freshman Chas McFarland see only 4 minutes a game.

Like the Pack, Wake Forest is already looking ahead to the 2007-08 season to be a big improvement. These players are likely to improve with age and experience, and while the loss of Visser will hurt, they’ll have a talented and experienced young nucleus going forward. Wake’s conference schedule this year is tough – they’ll be lucky to go 1-5 against the teams they play only once, and Miami, NC State, and to a lesser extent Virginia and Georgia Tech, are the only opportunities for home wins all year. 5 wins would be a big accomplishment for this Wake squad, and 6 or 7 would actually be a fantastic coaching job by Prosser. His team this year has looked a lot like recent Wake Forest teams minus the offense. Wake still can’t defend – they’re raw 102.3 D Rating is last in the conference – and they turn the ball over too much (22% as a team, with just a .9 assist/turnover ratio. All in all, it’s likely to be a long year in Winston as these kids learn to gell together and become competitive.

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