Preseason Sweet 16: Wake Forest Demon Deacons
By Clark Kellogg, Yahoo Sports
November 18, 2005
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With a high-octane offense, the Demon Deacons finished second in the ACC last season and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing a thrilling double-overtime game to West Virginia.
All-American point guard Chris Paul led the way, but he got plenty of help from Justin Gray, Eric Williams, Taron Downey, Trent Strickland, Jamal Levy and Vytas Danelius. With this lineup, Wake averaged 85 points per game, shooting 49 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point land. While not bad defensively, the strength of last year's squad was Paul's brilliance at the point and their overall firepower on offense.
Paul, Danelius, Levy and Downey are gone. That leaves Gray and Williams as the only returning starters and they will be counted on as the leaders and primary scorers for Wake this season.
Gray averaged 16 ppg and is an excellent shooter. However, this season he will have to be the team's point guard instead of its shooting guard. That means setting up his teammates and still finding his own offense. That's a tough adjustment, but one he'll have to handle well for Wake to be a top team. He won't have the same type of offensive options that Paul had last year, so he likely will have to be more of a scoring point guard.
Like Gray, Williams also averaged 16 ppg, shot 63 percent from the field and pulled down eight boards per game. Those numbers are fine, but he can be a 20 ppg guy by improving on the 57 percent he shot from the foul line and becoming a better finisher in the paint. He looks to be in the best shape of his career, so he should be able to meet the heightened expectations.
Trent Strickland, a do-it-all swingman seems poised to have a breakout year as a starter after coming off the bench last season. He could be that third double-figure scoring option that most all good teams have.
Kyle Visser and Chris Ellis will join Williams up front to give Wake a big, mobile and physical frontline. This team may lack the depth and offensive firepower of last year's team, but it could be a little better defensively because the overall size and speed is better.
However, the Deacons' offensive efficiency will be a work in progress as Gray works himself into a comfort zone at point. Freshmen Harvey Hale and Shamaine Dukes are the only other point guards on the roster, but it remains to be seen if either one will be consistent contributors this season. If they can, it would allow Gray some time off the ball, and some much needed rest from running Wake's high-speed offense.
So even though all the pieces aren't yet in place, Wake has the talent and experience to win at least a couple of NCAA tournament games – and if Gray can step up at point, the Demon Deacons could go even further.
Clark Kellogg is Yahoo! Sports' NCAA men's basketball analyst. Send Clark a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Saturday, Nov 19, 2005 3:11 am, EST