Wake Forest has cooled down after a hot start to the 2016-17 men’s basketball season, going 2-2 over their last four games after starting off 3-0. The Deacons now sit at 5-2 following a tight-fought 58-65 loss to Northwestern on the road last Monday, Nov. 28.
Despite the .500 stretch and outside of an ugly, predicted 77-96 loss against defending NCAA Champion Villanova, Wake Forest has played at a level consistent with or above preseason expectations for such a young team. With just five combined juniors and seniors on the 17-man roster, Wake Forest seems to be handling the inevitable growing pains as well as they can.
“We’re a young team,” said head coach Danny Manning at practice on Wednesday. “And you don’t get battle tested unless you go on the battlefield and face some discomfort.”
While Wake Forest hasn’t been through the gauntlet of ACC play just yet, their four nonconference road games in the first seven contests of the year have tested the young Deacs.
Sophomore forward John Collins has passed every test thrown at him so far, leading the Deacons in points, rebounds and blocks while making himself a go-to option for a Wake Forest team that saw its two best offensive threats, Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre graduate.
“He’s really established himself as a guy who can score in the paint, and he’s going to command more attention,” Manning said.
The Deacons have found themselves a paint patroller and constant lob threat in Collins, but the real offensive change has come from behind the arc.
For the first time in Danny Manning’s three years at Wake Forest, he has a stable of three point shooters at his disposal, and the team has taken advantage of this.
Wake Forest has four players shooting over 39 percent from deep, with redshirt sophomore transfer Keyshawn Woods lighting it up at a ridiculous 64 percent.
To put this into context, the Deacs’ leading three point shooter last year was Bryant Crawford, who finished the year shooting 35 percent.
The ability to kick the ball out from the post for a high-percentage shot has rejuvenated a Wake Forest offense predicated too often on isolation plays in recent years.
“All of our opponents know we’re capable of making them,” said Manning of the Deacons’ three point shots.
If Wake Forest can continue to hit three pointers at this rate, they will be able to hang with virtually any team in the country. For now, though, the Deacons are focused on their upcoming game against Richmond on Saturday, Dec. 3.