The No. 14 Arizona Wildcats will take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Sunday (7 p.m. MST, ESPN) in the Wooden Legacy championship game in Anaheim, Calif.
Arizona (8-0) won two surprisingly close games against Pepperdine and Penn to get to this point. Wake Forest (5-2) beat College of Charleston by nine and Long Beach State by 13.
Arizona has not faced Wake Forest since 2004 when Chris Paul was the Deacons’ point guard. We wanted to get to know more about Wake Forest basketball, so we got some insight from Edward Foster from BloggerSoDear.com, the Wake Forest SB Nation site.
Here is our Q&A:
What are the expectations for Wake Forest basketball this season?
EF: I would say that expectations for Wake Forest basketball are pretty low this year. The media picked them to finish last in the conference, and after essentially an entire decade of disappointment the fanbase doesn’t seem to expect a lot of improvements. That being said, major defensive improvements are a must, and if Danny Manning wants to stick around for a while, he can’t have another 11-win season.
The Deacons used to be a perennial NCAA Tournament team, but have only made one appearance since 2011. Why have things changed?
EF: The Deacs’ only NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010 was a First Four appearance in 2017, a season in which John Collins essentially carried the team on his back. The program still hasn’t recovered from Skip Prosser’s untimely death in 2007, and maybe never fully will. Unfortunately, former director of athletics Ron Wellman made a couple of questionable decisions regarding the basketball program. The first of which was hiring Jeff Bzdelik in 2010 to replace Dino Gaudio who was fired after a “lack of postseason success” while compiling a 61-31 record in three seasons.
Bzdelik’s previous records were questionable to begin with, and his dry personality combined with the lack of success on the court really turned away much of the fanbase. The second decision was giving Danny Manning a massive fully guaranteed contract extension, reportedly worth as much as $17 million, in the fall of 2017 after simply making the First Four. This has handicapped the program, and prevented it from starting over this year, as many believe should have been done. New Director of Athletics John Currie will have some tough decisions going forward, but the long and the short of it is that the last two coaching hires simply have not been good fits.
This is Danny Manning’s sixth season as Wake Forest’s coach. What can you usually expect from his teams?
EF: Danny Manning’s teams play hard and like to move the ball up the court, but have not been known for defense at all in his first five seasons. The Deacs rely a lot on the three-point shot, and with the combination of injuries and early departures, they often struggle with scoring the ball in the paint. Wake Forest is also known for getting several players into double-figures, especially early this season.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s team?
EF: This year’s team doesn’t have a lot of depth on the interior, as two projected rotation post players are out for the season. That being said, junior center Olivier Sarr has had big games since moving out of the starting lineup and coming off the bench. Shooting is definitely a strength of this team, as several different players are capable of spreading the floor and knocking down shots from the perimeter. The team is also good at drawing fouls. They can go long stretches without scoring a field goal, but still put points on the board by getting fouled and knocking down shots from the free throw line.
Who are some players Arizona fans need to be wary of?
EF: Arizona fans should keep an eye out for the trio of guards in Brandon Childress, Andrien White, and Torry Johnson. These three guys can light it up from outside, and all three are also threats to drive the ball inside and draw a foul. Sarr has been a big presence of the bench, and Chaundee Brown is returning to full health as the best player on the team when fully healthy.
Arizona’s 3-point defense has been terrible in the Wooden Legacy. How much damage can the Deacons do from that range?
EF: As I alluded to earlier, the Deacs rely heavily on the three-point shot, and have several guys who can knock it down at a high rate if they are left open. Assuming the legs are fresher after a day off, the Deacs can do some real damage from the outside. They just can’t fall in love with it so much that they never drive the ball and get fouled.
How would you describe Wake Forest’s performance in the Wooden Legacy so far?
EF: Wake Forest has been very impressive in the Wooden Legacy so far, and is playing their best basketball since the 2017 team. Granted they haven’t played great teams, but they have looked good in both games. They have gotten to the free throw line 52 times, and made 45 of those attempts. The Deacs have made a concerted effort on the boards and not been afraid to take the ball inside and take advantage of mismatches that have presented themselves.
EF: Arizona 82, Wake Forest 66. Arizona is by far the best team that Wake Forest has played this season, and has the personnel to expose all of Wake’s weaknesses. The Deacs have looked good so far, but they simply don’t have the talent to compete with the Wildcats.