Road to the Final Four at Ford Field: No. 21 Wake Forest

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IOctober 6, 2008

Big is least as it pertains to the incoming class of stud recruits second year coach Dino Gaudio brought in.

The Demon Deacon recruiting class ranks near the top of the country and includes the ACC's best freshman, Al-Farouq Aminu. The 6'8'' Aminu joins highly touted freshman centers seven footer Ty Walker and 6'10'' Tony Woods as the next wave of players to don the black and gold.

The three big men will provide Coach Gaudio with tremendous depth as he returns his nine top scorers from a year ago. Wake Forest has improved its conference win total by two wins in each of the last two years, but is primed to make a bigger jump in 2009.

WF should be the deepest team in the entire ACC if not the country with 12 players capable of giving Dino Gaudio a productive ten plus minutes per game. Gaudio's biggest challenge in 2009 will be keeping all his players happy, but also dealing with some youth and inexperience.

The Demon Deacons should pull things together to make a postseason appearance, but none of Gaudio's players have graced the floor in a postseason tournament other than the conference tournament. 

But sometimes the talent can be so good that it trumps experience. Wake Forest may be that exception.

From top to bottom, WF is oozing with players that will haunt the dreams of ACC teams.

The Demon Deacons' best player from 2008, James Johnson is also the conference's second leading returning rebounder at 8.1 boards per game. The forward did that as a freshman. The super sophomore also dropped 14.6 points per game.

Johnson emerged on the radar early to ACC teams in the non-conference slate last year, but it wasn't until a nasty stretch in conference play when the Wyoming native torched the terrific trio of North Carolina, Duke, and Maryland for 71 points over three consecutive games.

Johnson's classmate also had a pretty special freshman campaign. Like Johnson, combo guard Jeff Teague continued to improve in conference play instead of fading away to obscurity. The sophomore entered conference play scoring a modest 10.6 points per game, but improved to score an astounding 16.4 points per game in ACC play.

Teague lit it up from beyond draining 44-percent of his attempts from distance during conference play as opposed to 32-percent out of conference.

Teague's partner of crime in the backcourt Ishmael Smith may be the weakest part of the starting lineup, but if a junior point guard who average about nine points per game and five assists is your biggest weakness, you are doing pretty good.

The knack on Smith--too many turnovers and one of the most abysmal free throw percentages in the game. According to Ken Pomeroy statistics, a quarter of the offensive possessions that Smith finished ended in a turnover. In 2008, Smith hit just 16 free throws out of 55. That's a smooth 29-percent from the charity strip.

Coach Dino Gaudio used Teague and Smith as well as guard L.D. Williams in the starting line-up, but in 2009, Gaudio might move away from the three guard offense with the addition of his three five-star recruits that are all forwards.

Gaudio will probably use two different lineups to match up against either a small or big team. When he needs three guards he'll look towards Teague, Smith, and Williams with sophomore Gary Clark and the lone contributing senior Harvey Hale backing them up.

Hale can be used in late game situations to spell the poor free throw shooter Smith in late game situations. The senior shoots over 80-percent from the line, but his turnover percentage is just 13-percent which is only half of Smith's turnover percentage. He's the ideal, experienced guard to have on the court when the game is on the line.

In the smaller lineup, James Johnson and the seven foot junior Chas McFarland will start. The three freshmen Al-Farouq Aminu, Ty Walker, and Tony Woods will back the two of them up. Junior Jamie Skeen averaged 5.6 points per game in 2008 and will also add depth to the Deacon frontcourt.

Coach Gaudio's three centers McFarland, Walker, and Woods are all more defensive inclined and aren't too polished offensively. McFarland does contribute on the offensive boards, leading the team and finishing ninth in the league in offensive rebounding percentage. He grabs one out of every nine misses when he's on the floor.


2008 Season Forecast:

Dino Gaudio doesn't challenge his young team too hard, but there are several notable games in the non-conference schedule. WF plays in the 76 Classic and could tip off with St. Mary's in the second round and face any one of four potential NCAA Tournaments in Arizona State, Baylor, Charlotte, and Providence in the third round.

ACC play will be tougher, but can build momentum early in its schedule with home games against Duke and North Carolina during Wake's first five ACC games.

Wake Forest will make the second round of the NCAA Tournament and has a solid chance of going to the Sweet 16.


Best Case Scenario:

All three incoming freshmen play to their five star potential while James Johnson and Jeff Teague progress well after stellar freshman seasons. Wake Forest can make the Elite Eight if things click.


Worst Case Scenario:

One or more of the freshmen are busts and teams figure out either Johnson or Teague. Wake struggles to win more than nine games in the ACC and get bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.


22. USC

23. Baylor

24. Syracuse

25. Kentucky