The addition of Keyshawn Woods, Austin Arians and Brandon Childress to the rotation has improved the Deacs shooting, and helped them get off to a 5-1 start.
But it will take special seasons by returning sophomores John Collins and Bryant Crawford to lead Wake Forest back to the postseason.
Monday night in a Wake (5-2) 65-58 loss at Northwestern (5-2), Collins was special, grabbing a career-high 16 rebounds and tying for the team lead with 12 points.
“I thought tonight was an early conference game for both teams, to be honest. I thought the atmosphere was really good,” Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said. “I thought Northwestern came out down the stretch and made some really good plays. I thought we had some breakdowns offensively and defensively, and they certainly capitalized on that.”
Collins had eight points and four rebounds at the half, but had to sit most of the final seven minutes, saddled with a pair of personal fouls.
“He could break out a little bit more if he’d stay out of foul trouble. John is an athletic kid. Last year, with the minutes he played, his production was really high,” Manning said. “He gets a lot of things done on the court. The thing we continue to stress to him is defensive positioning. I think a lot of times, when you’re a big guy in high school your coach is telling you not to foul or to come over and block a shot.
“When you get to this level and you try to time up a block, or go make a great defensive play, you usually end up getting the foul. That’s just something we have to continue to work on with him.”
The Deacs were cold from the field, shooting just 31.1 percent and 23.8 percent behind the arc. They also turned the ball over 19 times.
Despite the numerous deficiencies, Wake found themselves tied at 53 with Northwestern with just 3:24 left in the contest.
“I thought with three minutes left to go in the game, we were right there. Northwestern didn’t let us make enough plays to win the game, and they made the plays down the stretch,” Manning said. “I think Chris (Collins) is doing a tremendous job here building this program. They way they play night-in and night-out is impressive.”
Crawford wasn’t so special, having potentially his worst game in the Old Gold and Black. He also had a career-high — in turnovers (9), while scoring eight points on 3-for-12 shooting (0-4 behind the arc).
Junior forward Dinos Mitoglou also notched a double double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 boards.
Bryant McIntosh led the Wildcats with 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting.
“No surprise. He’s a good player. Everybody knows that,” Manning said. “This year with the team and the weapons they have, he’s a little bit more of a facilitator, but he’s certainly able to take the game over for stretches like he did at the end of the game tonight.”
Wake returns to action at noon Saturday at the Richmond (4-2). The Spiders play at Bucknell Wednesday, a team the Deacs topped by 20 in the second game of the season.