Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Guest Blogger: Chris's Sports Blog (Wake alum)

BC’s 0-3 start in the ACC was bad. Wake Forest’s 1-8 record in conference play is beyond horrid. The Deacons might be one of the most talented teams in the conference so no Eagle fan is taking this game lightly. And if football has taught us anything it is: BC will find unique ways to blow games to Wake Forest.

To get more information on the Deacons I invited Chris from Chris’s Sports Blog to guest blog on his alma mater. Fortunately for Chris’s mental health his blog deals with more than the Deacons. Here are my questions and his take on tonight’s game:

1. Wake Forest is easily the most disappointing team in the Conference and a lot has to go wrong to start 1-8. What do you think the biggest factors were/are in the horrendous start?

I’m not going to lie, I’m real tempted to just write “Skip Prosser” and move on to question #2, but I’ll remember I’m a guest on this blog and will conduct myself in a respectful manner forthwith. (However, I hereby reserve the right to make a joke involving J.J. Redick, A. Rod and a Brokeback Mountain matinee at any point during my future responses. I’m not made of stone, Bill.)

In developing this response, I’ve tried thinking of other possible reasons Wake has performed so poorly this season, but can’t really come up with anything other than Prosser. Clearly, the departure of Chris Paul after his sophomore season killed any chances the Deacs had of being a National Title contender in 2006, but Paul bolting to the NBA wasn’t unexpected. Nor was the graduation of Jamaal Levy, Vytas Danelius and Taron Downey. Players leave school early for the pros and guys graduate; that’s what happens in college basketball.

Wake can’t make any excuses about their pitiful play this season based on that, especially considering the Deacs roster still was pretty good without CP.

With the exception of Duke (and possibly your Eagles), Wake has the most talented team in the ACC. They boast two All-ACC players in Justin Gray and Eric Williams, have an athletic, if erratic, playmaker in Trent Strickland and had a well-regarded recruiting class come in this season. With a merely competent coach, Wake would be 4-4 in the ACC, at worst. With Prosser, they’re 1-8.

Just once it’d be nice to see Wake players move without the ball or create something with ball movement instead of driving recklessly towards the hole every possession. Sometimes I dream about Demon Deacon players boxing out on rebounds and defending the baseline. Then I wake up and watch them lose at home to Virginia Freakin’ Tech and thank my lucky stars I graduated three years ago so I don’t have to watch that crap in person.

Some other quick factors that have contributed to the Deacs brutal season:
1. Free throws. As a team, the Deacs shoot 66% from the line. In pressure situations, that percentage drops to negative-four. It’s amazing how often Wake’s 80% shooter will miss two shots from the charity stripe seconds before their opponent’s 55% shooter makes both. Justin Gray hits FTs at an 84% clip, but almost every time he’s shooting the front-end of a 1-and-1 or has two big FTs late, he’ll blow it. You can set your watch to it. If you don’t already have it set to Prosser calling a timeout with 20 seconds left in the first-half to set-up a play that results in a heaved three-pointer two seconds after the buzzer sounds.

2. Trent Strickland. Whether it’s an easy, breakaway dunk missed because of an attempted 360-reverse-windmill or a contested three-point attempt with 29 seconds left on the shot clock, Strickland always manages to make the stupid play at the wrong time. Oh, he’ll tease you with an unbelievable display of athleticism or a string of drained shots, but just when you let your guard down – WHAM! - he passes the ball to Dick Vitale while calling a timeout he doesn’t have.

3. Who am I kidding, it’s all about Prosser.

2. This team still has enough talent to beat most of its remaining opponents. What does BC have to do to shut down the Deacons and avoid this becoming a trap game?

It’s true, the Deacs have the talent to win any of their remaining games (and that includes their Valentine’s Day trip to Durham). The only question is, will the effort be there?

On Saturday against UVA, Wake was out-hustled and looked generally disinterested for the entire 40 minutes. The Hoos outrebounded Wake 42-22, including 17-4 on the offensive glass. If the Deacs put forth another effort like that, this game won’t be close. However, I’d be surprised if Gray and Williams let the team give such a lackadaisical effort at home (against an ACC newbie, no less), so let’s assume they play hard. If that happens, Wake can beat BC if two of the following four things happen (man, that’s a lot of ifs):

1. Justin Gray is hot. Seven-for-eleven from three-point range hot.

2. They don’t forget about Eric Williams in the middle. Too many times this season Wake has seen their big man in the middle dominate the early portions of the game and then have inexplicably forgotten about him soon after.

3. Somebody else (Strickland, Chris Ellis, Harvey Hale, Michael Drum, Kyle Visser) steps up with a solid 18-point effort.

4. Before the game Skip Prosser gets clipped by the BC team bus.
I’m only kidding of course. There’s no way Kyle Visser will score 18 points.

BC will find the best way to beat the Deacs is to not beat yourself. That’s about as clichéd as it gets, but it’s the truth.

Al Skinner would be wise to switch defenses often (including going to the under-utilized 1-3-1 zone) and remind his guards to get the ball inside to Craig Smith and Jared Dudley. If they can get Eric Williams in foul trouble, it will be a long night for the Deacs.

BC doesn’t seem to have an up-tempo offense and they’d be wise to stick with their half-court sets tonight. With some ball movement, they’ll be able to get open shots against Wake’s porous D. The biggest mistake the Eagles can make would be trying to push the ball up the court to take quick shots.

3. You’re pretty vocal in your criticism of Skip Prosser. Given his past flirtations (Pitt) and rumors of his future departure to Cinci, you might not have to deal with him much longer. All that being said: who is the real Skip Prosser? Handcuffed recruiter at Wake whose brilliance will be on display once he returns to a school with more “liberal admissions” or a guy who was in the right place at the right time at Xavier and is being exposed at Wake?

The real Prosser is probably somewhere in between. Nobody can deny the recruiting prowess he has had at both Xavier and Wake Forest (David West, James Posey, Justin Gray, Eric Williams and Chris Paul are just some of the talents Prosser brought to two schools with limited basketball history). And he also makes sure his guys graduate, another trait that endears him to university presidents.

But another undeniable fact about Prosser is his subpar record in the postseason. He has a 6-9 career record in the NCAA Tournament and has only made it to the Sweet 16 once in those trips (despite entering the dance twice as a #2 seed).

Prosser supporters often cite his excellent record in the ACC (prior to this season, only Duke had a better intraconference record since Prosser arrived in Winston-Salem in 2001. And Bill Guthridge was the only coach with a higher ACC winning percentage in his first three seasons), but that’s meaningless if his teams can’t win when it counts. And they don’t.

Wake was so good during conference play during Prosser’s first four seasons because their teams were great. Josh Howard won an ACC Player of the Year award and Chris Paul was a first-team All-American under Prosser. Yet neither could lead their team to the Elite Eight because once March rolled around, running the ball up-and-down the court at a breathless pace stops working and a team has to actually have some semblance of an offensive gameplan. In the regular season it was enough to try and outscore teams, defense be damned. That doesn’t work in the Tournament, as Wake Forest has found out.

If he goes somewhere else, it will likely be more of the same: Solid recruiting, regular season success and postseason disappointment. Eventually everbody there will discover Skip Prosser is a good guy, but a bad coach. Right now, nobody knows that more than fans of Wake Forest basketball.

Check out Chris's Sports Blog for his take on sports, the Redskins, and the many sins of Skip Prosser.

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