As conference play is rapidly coming to a close, the Maryland Terrapins are obviously in “win now” mode. At 6-7 in the ACC, the Terrapins need to close out extremely strong to obtain favorable seeding in the conference tournament. That means beating some teams you shouldn’t (Syracuse) and separating yourself from teams with similar records (Wake Forest). We’ll start with the latter, who happen to share a very familiar storyline with the Terps.
Wake Forest, at 14-11, is having a pretty comparable season to the Terrapins at first glance. For one, they’re a youthful group; of the eight Wake Forest players who average ten or more minutes per game, six are underclassmen. Interspersed with a pair of upperclassmen (Travis McKie and Coron Williams), Wake probably expected that they were going to be a player in the ACC. Unfortunately, it still looks like they’re stuck in rebuilding mode.
Wake Forest has simply cooled off from their very strong early season start. The year began with high expectations after starting 11-3 with wins over North Carolina, USC, and St. Bonaventure. Coupled with very close games against Kansas and Xavier, the start had Wake thinking their expectations may have even been too low. Since then, they’re 3-8, on a five-game skid, and haven’t won since January 25th.
Senior Travis McKie’s production has fallen off drastically since his sophomore season (he’s scoring three fewer points and his rebounding is substantially worse), and Wake isn’t getting the kind of play they need out of him as he switches from the power forward to small forward spot. Meanwhile, they’re forced to rely on a young sophomore Codi Miller-McIntyre. You might remember him from last year when he dropped 14 on the Terps in a loss. He’s a talented player, but not necessarily capable of anchoring the load by himself at this point in his career.
A Cautionary Tale of the Recruiting Trail
When you look at Wake Forest’s recent history from a recruiting perspective, it’s hard not to find parallels with the Maryland program. Despite recruiting solid classes, the results haven’t panned out the way they’ve wanted, and their program has been ravaged by transfers, off-court trouble, and cohesion issues with the new coach. Just take this excerpt from BloggerSoDear.com (a Wake Forest mouthpiece) concerning Wake Forest’s top 10 2010 class that included Travis McKie, whom they expected to guide them to multiple tourney berths:
While McKie was arguably the top player in Dino’s 2010 class, the recruiting class affectionately (and perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek) dubbed the “Fab Five” by many Wake fans featured three other RSCI top 100 players in J.T. Terrell (51st), Carson Desrosiers (66th), and Melvin Tabb (93rd). The fifth player, Tony Chennault, was regarded as a hard-nosed Philly point guard who honed his skills at well-regarded Neumann-Goretti.
That 2010 class (and to an extent their 2012 class) that has so far produced zero tourney berths, is a cautionary tale of unfettered expectations without any awareness of reality. The reality that recruiting is a fickle beast; sometimes recruits just don’t pan out, and even the really good ones can be not-so-great. McKie stuck around, sure, but J.T. Terrell got arrested for a DUI and transferred to USC, Carson Desrosiers (who the Terps played this year) transferred, Melvin Tabb got into legal trouble and transferred, and even their prized 2008 recruit Tony Woods transferred after facing assault charges.
Since then, McKie has been good but not great, and Wake Forest has endured one of their worst prolonged stretches of losing in history. The bottom line? Sometimes things just don’t work out. It’s been similar to Maryland, although the events surrounding players departures are wholly different. Terrell Stoglin, Jordan Williams, Alex Len, Mychal Parker, Pe’Shon Howard, Sam Cassell Jr., Berend Weijs. All players who could’ve been around helping, but aren’t, and as a result the Terrapins are similarly stuck in rebuild. Not terrible, but not great, either.
And the 2012 class for Wake Forest? More from BloggerSoDear:
The group was dubbed the “Sensational Seven” and featured guard Codi Miller-McIntyre, big man Devin Thomas, Arnaud “Bill” Adala Moto, plus four other players making it the 23rd best class in the country.
Still not sounding familiar?
Again, just because you grab some four star recruits chock full of talent (like Miller-McIntyre is) doesn’t mean it’s going to translate into results right away. To be clear, Miller-McIntyre is definitely not the problem for Wake. Their crown jewel and top 75 player, Codi was the best player on the court against Kansas when he dropped 26 points (and that includes future lottery pick Andrew Wiggins), and he’s been their most consistent option offensively.
But unless Miller-McIntyre is going ballistic, Wake Forest’s sophomore class looks more like the Polish Navy in terms of firepower. Their other top recruit of the 2012 class, four-star DMVer Arnaud Adala Moto, has been a force as a rebounder and defender, but remains spectacularly raw as a scorer. Devin Thomas may be their second leading scorer, but he and Travis McKie don’t play nicely on the court for whatever reason, and the result is that their senior leader is averaging below his career numbers across the board.
The rest of the class has been mediocre enough that it isn’t worth mentioning. Tyler Cavanaugh has been an okay scorer, but Wake Forest has been reliant upon a fifth year senior transfer from Robert Morris in Coron Williams to provide them with ammo, and that’s really not what you want. It’s a testament to how poorly recruiting can turn out sometimes.
Patience is a virtue for a reason
We could clamor on about how poorly Wake Forest’s recruiting has gone the past half-decade (somewhere between “snowplow at full speed with no brakes” and “Facebook’s IPO”), but it can also be looked at as a team with potential. Coaching dissent aside, the Demon Deacons have talent on the roster. Even though that 2012 class isn’t putting up rare numbers right now, the players sometimes put it together, and when they do, it’s dangerous.
As stated earlier, when Miller-McIntyre catches fire this team dynamic changes completely. They’re 11-4 in games that he’s made five or more shots, and that’s because he gives them opportunities to run with anyone, much like Dez Wells does with the Terps. And because of how good he is at getting to the line and drawing fouls, it makes their team even more dangerous.
McKie is a consistent presence who has played for bad teams, but their young guys are no slouches sometimes (with sometimes being the key word). Devin Thomas played very well against Rakeem Christmas and Jerami Grant, and Wake Forest almost upset Syracuse. He also destroyed Notre Dame, scoring 21 points on only 11 shots.
Tyler Cavanaugh shows it in flashes. He’s still skinny, but at 6’9 with range and length, he can be a tougher one to guard. He runs the floor well, and played alongside Syracuse center DaJuan Coleman in high school against some solid competition. Give him another year, and there’s a good chance he’ll turn into a better defender and a more consistent scoring option.
But when they put it all together, or just enough together, Wake Forest can definitely beat Maryland. The Terrapins are playing some very good basketball right now, but closing games isn’t their specialty. Wake Forest is good at keeping games within arm’s reach, and if things click for them throughout a game they can beat the Terps.
But again, Wake’s being sold on a dream. As they’re finding out along with the Terps, these things take time and results may or may not materialize. Sometimes, like against Kansas, the future looks exceedingly bright. Then there are home losses to Georgia Tech that throw everyone off. Or in Maryland terms, very close losses against Duke on the road or home losses to Boston University.
Young teams are just so inconsistent to watch sometimes. They’re two-faced, and make every game (even the ones that shouldn’t be) interesting. Player development is so impossible to get down to a science, you just hope your team can figure it out in time. When Wake Forest and Maryland play one another on Tuesday, it could separate the two so that their histories don’t run congruent to one another this season.
At a glance, it looks like Maryland is figuring it out quicker than Wake Forest, but with young teams, that’s just never a guarantee.