College basketball: Wake Forest is hoping to make it big by playing small
Since the Golden State Warriors won the 2015 NBA championship using a lineup without a true center, the use of smaller lineups has suddenly become in vogue for professional and college basketball teams.
Wake Forest coach Danny Manning will follow that trend this season, but not to stay fashionable. Manning is going the small-ball route out of necessity and because his four best and most experienced returning players are all guards.
"At the end of the day, I've got four really good guards, so we're going to end up playing small a lot of the time," Manning said. "We'll try to dictate matchups by going small. The guard will be the driving force behind our team this year."
The Demon Deacons actually utilized a four-guard lineup often last season while forging one of the biggest turnarounds in college basketball. After finishing 13-19 and 11-20 in Manning's first two seasons on the job, Wake Forest crafted a 19-14 overall mark and 9-9 Atlantic Coast Conference record that was good enough to earn the school's first NCAA tournament bid since the 2009-10 season.
Only one prominent player from that squad was scheduled to graduate in starting forward Austin Arians, who was the fifth-leading scorer (8.5). But soon the rest of the frontcourt was also wiped out when sophomore center John Collins decided to exit early for the NBA and junior power forward Dino Mitoglou opted to forego his senior year to play professionally in Greece. Collins was Wake's leading scorer (19.2) and rebounder (9.8), while Mitoglou was fourth in scoring (8.9) and second in rebounds (6.1).
Check out a few highlights from last night's exhibition vs. Queens. pic.twitter.com/dLLWhWbTc4— Wake Basketball (@WakeMBB) November 4, 2017
The frontcourt losses essentially forced Manning's hand to go small and rely heavily on junior Bryant Crawford (16.2 points, 5.5 assists per game last season), junior Keyshawn Woods (12.5), senior Mitchell Wilbekin (7.0) and sophomore Brandon Childress (6.6) to be the nucleus of his 2017-18 team.
"We are the guys with the most experience and playing time under our belts," Wilbekin said. "If we want to take another step forward in this program, the guards are going to have to bring it every night, compete and make plays."
"Other than being small, we're pretty much going to be scrappy ... a small, scrappy, little team," Woods added. "You've got to be (scrappy) when you're small, when you lose that type of players we lost. We have to fight for every rebound, everything that we want to get."
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Crawford and Woods are the tallest of the Wake guards at 6-foot-3, so rebounding could be an issue for the Deacons. But Manning is hoping 6-7 graduate transfer Terrence Thompson will help absorb some of the burden on the boards.
Thompson, a graduate of Durham's Riverside High, began his college career at Charlotte where he was redshirted as a freshman in 2013-14. He left Charlotte for Georgia Highlands, a junior college, where he played for one season before transferring to Marshall. He played in 55 games over the last two seasons with the Thundering Herd and started 21 last season when he averaged 9.1 points and 6.5 rebounds.
"I think Terrence is making a big impact," Wilbekin said. "He's an athletic guy, he can get up and down the court with us, and he has experience at this level."
But can a team playing most with a four-guard lineup succeed and improve on last year's performance?
Well, Oregon made it to the NCAA Final Four last season using the four-guard lineup effectively. National powers Kansas and Kentucky also experimented with four-guard lineups at times last season.
Either way, Woods wants to see Wake Forest continue to move forward and make a deeper run into the NCAA tournament, where the Deacons fell in the play-in game last year to Kansas State.
"In our eyes, we made it, but we didn't make it," Woods said. "We got a taste of the tournament. But we want to make a run. That is our motivation. Whether we do that with three guards, four guards and five guards, it doesn't matter. That's our focus."
This article is written by Sammy Batten from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.