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Where will the Deacs land?

Is Wake Forest headed for the bottom, or not? Let's take a look at some of their issues going forward...

 Wake Forest 08-09 (conf-only)
Rtg (Rk) eFG% (Rk) TO% (Rk) OR% (Rk) FTR (Rk) 2FG% (Rk) 3FG% (Rk)

Offense 106.8 (5) 52.0 (2) 21.2 (8) 35.8 (5) 42.0 (1) 52.7 (1) 32.8 (10)
Defense 101.1 (3) 47.5 (2) 19.2 (7) 32.3 (1) 35.2 (6) 47.6 (5) 31.5 (1)

If Wake Forest does find its way down to the bottom third of the league standings, it's likely that the offense will be the culprit, as Jeff Teague and James Johnson were not only the team's highest-usage players but also its most efficient players. Teague was Wake's sole reliable outside shooter in 2009, and now that he's gone, that area appears all the more glaring a problem. LD Williams hasn't been an effective shooter since 2007, and Ish Smith, for all the improvement he showed last season, still lacks range. When it is even slightly possible that the departure of Harvey Hale--who was an outside threat only in the sense that he possessed the strength necessary to lob the ball 21 feet--might hurt, you've got problems. Incoming shooting guard CJ Harris may not be much help, as lists perimeter shooting among his weaknesses.

But this is a team that, quite understandably, makes its living in the paint, and they attempt so few three-pointers that more sub-par production from outside probably won't be crippling. Al-Farouq Aminu and Chas McFarland were both reliable interior scorers, but that was with average workloads afforded them by the attention given to Teague and Johnson. It remains to be seen how they'll take to larger roles in the offense, though Aminu should be fine. Regardless, Wake Forest can't replace Johnson's 60% two-point shooting.

And what about the turnover rate now that Ish Smith is running the club full-time? Smith brought his TO% down to an acceptable level last season--it was easily the best mark of his career. Can he do that again?

At the defensive end, the Deacs used their considerable size to make shots difficult and second opportunities rare (relative to the rest of the ACC, anyway). Between Aminu, McFarland, and the additional services of noted tall guys Tony Woods, David Weaver, and Ty Walker, there's a good chance that continues. As long as it does, they'll be fine. But here, again, Johnson's absence looks like a big deal--he rebounded well and was arguably their most disruptive defender, if you buy the notion that block and steal rates reflect that sort of thing.

Just being tall isn't always good enough, though, as Sidney Lowe's last couple of teams have made painfully evident. Wake's interior defense showed some cracks down the stretch, and they were a few points per possession worse over the final month of the season. That slide culminated in a meltdown against Cleveland State in the NCAA tournament.

Wake Forest's overall performance in conference play wasn't quite as good as its results; they were just the fourth-best team in terms of efficiency margin. It's conceivable that the defense, which has a solid foundation but some uncertain new parts, declines a bit back toward league average, while the offense finds life much more difficult without Teague and Johnson. And if that's conceivable, so too is a bottom-third finish.