Friday, February 13, 2009

Has Wake hit the wall again?

Wake Forest guard Ish Smith and the Deacons couldn't complete a comeback against N.C. State in Wednesday's loss, which reminds some of last season's sluggish finish.

From the more things change, the more they don’t category:

After a promising start last season, Wake Forest's basketball team lost nine of its final 15 regular-season games, then was handed a 70-60 loss by Florida State in its first ACC conference tournament game. The Deacons finished the 2007-08 season 17-13 overall and missed the postseason entirely.

Could it be happening again?

Logically, the answer is, no way. But after Wednesday's 82-76 loss at N.C. State, the Deacons are again in something of a free-fall, having lost four of their past six games with a Saturday assignment against surging Florida State.

"We've got to get back to what we were doing well earlier," Deacons coach Dino Gaudio said.

But getting back, in this case, could translate into getting legs back, and Wake looked tired and awkward much of the time against a more experienced, deeper and obviously more energetic Wolfpack team in the RBC Center. Rarely did the Deacs resemble the explosive group that whipped North Carolina and Duke earlier in the season.

The Deacons had enough steam left to make a spirited run in the second half. But even after slicing a 20-point deficit to two, Wake's perimeter players just did not have enough left in their legs to take the final step.

An obvious possibility is that Gaudio's still-young team has hit the mid-season wall for the second straight year. N.C. State was able to take Wake freshman Al-Farouq Aminu almost completely out of his offensive comfort zone, and sophomore star guard Jeff Teague was visibly frustrated by a relentless, keying Pack defense.

In short, N.C. State really got after 'em for most of the 40 minutes, and Wake just didn't have the stamina or experience to deal with a team that the Deacons thought might be road kill just waiting to be removed from the conference interstate.

Another issue on Wake's plate is viable depth. On paper, Gaudio seems to have enough personnel pieces. But that's assuming Chas McFarland works the lane without venturing into foul trouble and that the rest of the players can keep pace with Ish Smith's quickness when he enters the game.

Smith is one of the league's quickest players and has instant-impact potential on any given night. But against the Wolfpack, he frequently was too quick for his teammates and spent stretches of the game waiting for everyone else to catch up in transition.

On one possession during the Wake second-half rally, Smith stood on the perimeter, dribbling the ball and yelling to his trailing teammates, "Come on! Come on! Let’s go! Let’s go! LET’S GO!"

— Caulton Tudor