Posted: 4:40 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014
By Michael Rogner
The game tips at 8pm on ESPN3.
Four years ago, freshmen Ian Miller and Okaro White traveled to Wake Forest for the first time in their careers, and both contributed double digit points in a convincing win. Wake Forest was led by first year head coach Jeff Bzdelik, who was brought in to replace Dino Gaudio. Gaudio had been fired because he wasn't successful enough for the fickle alumni who demanded a return to the 90's Wake Forest which consistently made the Sweet 16. But Gaudio "only" made the tourney in two of his three seasons, and failed to advance. So he was out. Wake wasn't settling for mediocrity. They were reaching for he stars.
The immediate rumor from boosters was that Brad Stevens would be his replacement. Of course that didn't happen. The search for a new coach was wrapped up very quickly and in secret, so it's impossible to know who all was contacted by Wake Forest. But it's difficult to imagine which big name coaches (or young hot shots) would be interested in a middle-of-the-road ACC program which fired their coach who'd just made back-to-back tourneys. Sure, Wake Forest has the resources, facilities, and tradition to be better than the league paupers, but not the funds to consistently battle with Duke or UNC.
Regardless of the big targets the boosters and fanboys had in mind, the person they got was Jeff Bzdelik. In his first season, during which Miller and White helped crush them at home, Wake was one of the worst teams in ACC history, going 8-24, 1-15. Year two was 13-18, 4-12. Year three was yet another 13-18 (though they won 6 conference games) meaning that Bzdelik not only failed to get them to the NCAA tournament, but he failed to reach any post season at all. Year four of the Bzdelik regime has them on the tourney bubble, though they have lost four straight. By "tourney bubble" I don't mean the NCAA tournament, or even the NIT, but it's possible they'll win enough for the College Basketball Invitational. Wake Forest is 14-10, 4-7. If you're doing the math this makes Bzdelik 47-69, 14-46 at a school with pretty good resources, and the fans pretty much want to burn the place down.
But hey, at least they reached for the stars, right?
This is the final season for senior Travis McKie, who has had an excellent, if confusing, career. After averaging 16.1 ppg as a sophomore, that dropped to 13.5 last year, and 10.8 this year. But he's efficient, takes care of the ball, and gets to the line. At 6-7, 220 it will be fun to watch him and Okaro battle one final time. The team's leading scorer is sophomore guard Codi Miller-McIntye, a consensus top 100 recruit, who is scoring 14.4 per game. He's not a 3-point threat, but can score in a lot of ways. Sophomore Devin Thomas is averaging 10.8 points and 8 rebounds a game, and is the person voted most likely to beat FSU by standing under the rim and dunking his teammates' misses.
Overall Wake is a poor shooting team, but they're excellent at getting to the line, and have shot more free throws in ACC play than any other team. Of course, they only make 64% as a team, but you have to start somewhere. Defensively, they do a good job contesting shots, but they don't force many turnovers and they are a poor rebounding team.
For FSU this is a game they simply have to win to have any remaining shot at the NCAA tourney. Sure, FSU could technically reel off 5 straight to finish the season and we'd be dancing, but that's not happening. This is one-game-at-a-time territory, and a conference road win is always big, regardless of the opponent. The best case here is to take care of the lesser teams remaining on the schedule, and knock off UNC, Pitt, or Syracuse. Then at least there's a shot, but for now it is all about Wake.
Plus, an FSU win might help our friends at Wake Forest dump their head coach. And replacing someone who genuinely deserves to be fired (like, yesterday) makes that job a lot more attractive than it was four years ago.