Next Season A Pivotal One For Wake Forest

Wake Forest fans have repeatedly called for Jeff Bzdelik's firing, but he will return for next season.
Wake Forest fans have repeatedly called for Jeff Bzdelik’s firing, but he will return for next season.

In 1995, Randolph Childress produced one of the most memorable ACC Tournament performances during his senior season.  40 points against Duke and 30 points against Virginia from the guard led his Wake Forest Demon Deacons to a championship meeting with North Carolina.  That game went to overtime, where Childress made the game-winning shot to finish with 37 points and earn the Demon Deacons their first ACC Tournament title since 1962.

Childress was named an assistant coach for the Demon Deacons yesterday, roughly one year after joining the Wake Forest staff as director of player development.   A lot has changed since that magical March 18 years ago.

Wake Forest won another ACC Tournament the following season, with Tim Duncan winning tournament MVP honors.  This was part of a seven-year run of annual NCAA Tournament appearances, ending in 1997, Duncan’s senior season.  In the 16 seasons since Duncan entered the NBA, the Demon Deacons have reached the NCAA Tournament seven times.

While there have been some rough patches along the way for Wake Forest, nothing compares to their recent string of poor performances under Jeff Bzdelik.  In three seasons under Bzdelik, the Demon Deacons are 34-60, with an 11-39 record in the ACC.

Fans have grown restless from languishing at the bottom of the conference.  Their criticisms took the form of newspaper advertisements this season, starting with Wake Forest’s student newspaper and moving to the Greensboro News and Record during the ACC Tournament this March. Oh, and there is a billboard campaign on the way.

Nonetheless, Ron Wellman stood behind the head coach in the offseason, confirming Bzdelik would return for the 2013-14 season.  While the reasons for wanting Bzdelik’s dismissal are obvious, there are some reasons for optimism in Winston-Salem.

Last season was Wake Forest’s best under Bzdelik, improving to 6-12 in ACC play.  While the Demon Deacons were the only ACC team to fail to win a conference road game, they did record home victories against three of the conference’s top five teams (Virginia, NC State, and Miami).

The Demon Deacons will lose their leading scorer, senior C.J. Harris, as well as sophomore Chase Fischer to a transfer.  While Fischer’s impact was limited, Harris led Wake Forest in scoring (15.4 points per game) and free-throw percentage (84.7 percent).  Harris’ departure will undoubtedly be noticeable, but there are plenty of capable players ready to continue Wake Forest’s improvement.

60 percent of Wake Forest’s minutes in 2012-13 went to freshmen, led by Devin Thomas.  The 6’9” forward averaged 9.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest for the Deacons, while also blocking 1.4 shots per game.  Wake Forest’s two leading assist men were also freshmen, as Codi Miller-McIntyre and Madison Jones each recorded more than two assists per game.

Thus, Wake Forest’s struggles last season may have as much to do with youth as any other cause.  If that’s the case, there should be a considerable improvement this year, as the six freshmen who logged considerable minutes for the team this season will have another year of experience under their collective belt.  They showed in 2012-13 that they have the talent to pick up wins against the conference’s best teams.

That success will also make the expectations higher for next season.  With increasing pressure for Bzdelik’s ouster, fans will demand a much better season this year to merit his return.  It doesn’t help Bzdelik’s cause that his predecessor, Dino Gaudio, had appeared in two NCAA Tournaments and posted a 61-31 record in three seasons at Wake Forest.  While history can’t be rewritten to undo Gaudio’s dismissal, Bzdelik will be compared to him as long as he is in Winston-Salem, especially when Wellman cited Gaudio’s postseason performance as a catalyst for the coaching change.

Does Wellman have reason to believe next year his patience with Bzdelik could provide a breakthrough for Wake Forest basketball? Certainly, considering the play of the Demon Deacons’ freshmen this season. It’s not a popular decision, nor one I necessarily agree with, but it has some merit. However, if Bzdelik is unable to continue Wake Forest’s improvement next season, the roars of dissent will grow much louder, and there will be no valid reason to not look in a new direction.

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1 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Zach, Bzdelik hasn’t had a winning record in 6 yrs. I don’t see any way that changes next year. He is a horrible coach and should’ve been fired this year. Wellman is just too proud to admit such a horrible mistake.

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