Wake Forest coach Danny Manning believes the goal of the Deacs non-conference schedule should be to prepare them for ACC competition.
The stretch run this year should do just that.
Wake (5-1) plays at Northwestern (4-2) at 9 p.m. tonight in the first of four games out of the next five that are true road contests for the Deacs.
They start the swing with the Wildcats from the Big Ten and finish with a contest at No. 9 Xavier from the Big East. Sandwiched in-between at games at Richmond, at home against Charlotte, then back on the road against UNC-Greensboro.
The final non-conference game is set for Dec. 22 against LSU from the SEC.
Mid-way through the 12-game non-conference slate, the Deacs look to be a much-improved offensive team.
They’re averaging 12 more points a game so far this season, and most of that improvement is directly related to improved shooting.
Addition through subtraction? Possibly.
Addition through addition? Absolutely. Manning added shooters to this year’s roster, and that is bearing out statistically thus far. Keyshawn Woods, Austin Arians and Brandon Childress are making a positive impact on the Deacs’ offense, accounting for 33 of the Deacs 58 made 3-pointers this season.
After finishing 301st out of 346 Division 1 programs in 3-point shooting last season, the Deacs are hitting a blistering 43.9 percent so far this year, good for seventh in the nation.
“We have to continue to work, and never be satisfied or happy. We have guys that are capable of making shots,” Manning said during the Charleston Classic tournament. “That’s not to say we’re going to make them all the time, but I think we have guys out there who have proven themselves to the point that you’re going to just let them shoot wide open shots.”
Despite having success from long range, Manning said the key is to start the offense in the middle every possession.
“We’re all about paint touches. If you break us down, the first thing we want to do is get a paint touch,” he said. “Once we get a paint touch, we can either get to the rim, drop it off to a big or kick it out to an open shooter. Paint touches are extremely important in our offense.”
They’ve also made strides so far at the free throw stripe, where they finished 304th in the nation last season at 66 percent. Childress is a perfect 15-for-15, while the Deacs are 78.7 percent as a team. That’s good for 16th in Division 1.
Now there’s two HUGE caveats to these impressive numbers:
1) The Deacs still have a lot of work to do defensively. The can’t hope to just outrun, outshoot and outscore ACC competition. They’ve got to become better defenders.
2) The competition is about to get tougher, so we’ll see if those numbers hold up.
So far, Wake has played just one team ranked in the KenPom top 100, and that was a self-described “beat down” at the hands of Villanova. In fact, three of Wake’s wins are against teams ranked 200 or worse: Radford, UTEP and Coastal Carolina.
In the next six games, the Deacs will face three teams (Northwestern, Richmond and Xavier) in the KenPom top 100 — all on the road. None of the next six contests are against sub-200 teams.
So while the early shooting numbers are encouraging, the next six games will provide a better glimpse of what ACC play will look like for these young Deacs.
Continue the hot shooting and improve defensively over the next month and perhaps the Deacs can surprise a few conference teams this season. If tougher competition forces a shooting regression and the Deacs fail to respond defensively, this very well could turn into a repeat of last season.