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Countdown to Tipoff: Previewing Wake Forest and Pitt

25 days until tipoff of the 2019-2020 Georgia Tech basketball season. Today we take a look at two ACC teams seeking to turn the corner.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

2018-2019 Season Recap

Danny Manning has disappointed since being given a 6 year contract extension in November of 2017. Last season the Deacs matched the previous years output, finishing 11-20 and 4-14 in the ACC. Due to the enormity of Manning’s buyout (north of $15 million), he was retained as coach, but is firmly on the hot seat. While Wake Forest has an excellent mix of talent, returning starters, and experience needed to get out of the ACC cellar, Manning needs to prove he can do his part from a coaching standpoint.

Roster Construction

Who’s Gone?

The Deacs lose just 23% of their scoring and only two players who played significant minutes: Jaylen Hoard and Ikenna Smart. After an impressive freshman season (13.1 points and 7.6 rebounds on 46% shooting), Hoard elected to declare for the NBA draft where he went undrafted. He later signed a 2-way contract with the Portland Trail Blazers as he seeks to find his place in the NBA as an athletic 2-way player. On the other hand, the departure of Smart will be less significant. Wake loses interior depth here, but Olivier Sarr seems poised to take over the center position.

Who’s Coming In?

Four high school recruits have made their way to Winston Salem, but the class lacks the marquee signing/s that we have become accustomed to seeing from Danny Manning on the recruiting trail. However, the jewel of the class, Ismael Massoud, is still a consensus top 150 player. Massoud struggled in the 2018 EYBL season posting just 7.7 points per game on 30% shooting. Despite the rough season, Massoud will bring versatility to the Deacs with his passing ability, 3-point shooting, and high motor.

Key Players

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Miami-Florida vs Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Childress led the way for Wake in countless categories last season: points (14.7), assists (4.0), steals (1.5), and 3-point percentage (37%). The senior guard will be the heart of the team again, but the supporting cast is much improved. As seen time and time again in college basketball, experience breeds success; the Deacs have that this season. Redshirt senior transfer Andrien White will run alongside Childress in the backcourt. At Charlotte, White averaged 12.2 points and 38% from 3 across 3 seasons, giving Wake Forest another capable shooter from deep. Junior guard Chaundee Brown will round out Wake’s main scoring threats, as he looks to improve on his 11.9 point and 4.9 rebound campaign last season. Two more players to keep an eye on for the Deacs? Olivier Sarr and Isaiah Mucius. Sarr will slot firmly in the 5 spot and gobble up most of the departed Smart’s minutes. Manning has had success developing bigs like John Collins and Doral Moore, so look for Sarr to take a big step forward this season. Mucius had a solid freshman year, and the most improvement generally happens between a player’s freshman and sophomore year. Look for him to slide into Hoard’s spot at the 4. The significant talent in Winston Salem should allow Childress to become a more efficient player and rested down the stretch of games, unlike last season where he played 36.4 minutes a game.

Keys to Victory

  • Ball movement. The Deacs have struggled on defense for years, giving up 75.6 points per game and finishing 186th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Kenpom last season. Georgia Tech should string together quick inside out passes with backdoor cuts to exploit a generally undisciplined defense.
  • Attack Olivier Sarr. Sarr is by no means Wake’s best player, but the Deacs don’t have any front court depth. By attacking the basket on the drive with Jordan Usher or in the post with James Banks, it could force Sarr into foul trouble. In just 21 minutes per game last season, Sarr averaged 3 fouls a game. Given a likely significant uptick in minutes, this could be a problem for Manning’s squad.

Pittsburgh Panthers

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

2018-2019 Season Recap

The Panthers were eager to turn the page from a Kevin Stallings era that brought the worst basketball Pitt had experienced in the 21st century. They did just that by hiring Duke assistant and renowned recruiter Jeff Capel. Capel’s inaugural season had zero expectations due to the mass exodus under Stallings and youth. However, the Panthers surprised many early in the season, starting 10-3 in non-conference and 2-2 in the ACC with wins over Louisville and FSU. The season started to unravel after the hot start as Pitt dropped the next 13 games in ACC play. Fortunately for the Panthers, they were able to win 2 of their final 3 games, giving a young team something to build on in the offseason.

Roster Construction

Who’s Gone?

Pitt loses 3 players that averaged over 20 minutes a game in 2018-19: Jared Wilson-Frame, Malik Ellison, and Sidy N’Dir. Ellison and N’Dir were role players in the guard rotation, but didn’t have a large impact. By far the most significant loss is Wilson-Frame. He was the heart and soul of the incredibly young Panthers team last season, averaging 12.7 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. In addition, he led the team in win shares (3.5) and box score plus/minus (5.1). Where Pitt will miss him most is from the 3-point line. Wilson-Frame was a volume sharpshooter making 3.1 per game at a 39.5% clip, which was top 60 in the country.

Who’s Coming In?

Three high school recruits (Gerald Drumgoole, Karim Coulibaly, and Justin Champagnie) and JUCO transfer Ryan Murphy have joined Capel’s squad. Drumgoole is the most coveted recruit in the class as a consensus top-150 player. The 6’5 wing should factor into the rotation right away behind sophomore wing Au’Diese Toney. Coulibaly and Champagnie aren’t expected to make significant contributions as freshmen, but will provide depth at wing. Murphy should see significant minutes as the junior guard averaged 18.5 points for the New Mexico Thunderbirds.

Key Players

The Panthers will once again be led by their backcourt as they return both Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens. Johnson had an impressive freshman season as he led the team in both points (15.5) and assists (4.5). The explosive athlete was able to get to the rim at will and was a competent 3-point shooter at 35%. McGowens also put together an eye opening freshman season, averaging 11.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists. He also made significant contributions on the defensive end, leading the team in defensive win shares (1.6) and steals (1.9).

Keys to Victory

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Georgia Tech vs Notre Dame Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
  • Dare Pitt to shoot 3s. The returning players for the Panthers averaged 30% from beyond the arc last season. That would be good for 333rd in the country. Of the players coming in, only Ryan Murphy seems poised to take significant 3 point shots next season, but he proved to be very streaky in junior college (28% in 13 games). With the increased distance of the shot, the Panthers don’t appear to be improving in this category. The Jackets should plan to pack it in and dare Pitt to shoot. This should allow them to clog the lanes, giving less space for the excellent slashers Trey McGowens and Xavier Johnson to operate. Against UVA last season, they failed to reach 50 points on offense against a condensed defense.
  • Get back in transition. Piggybacking off the ability of Johnson and McGowens to score on the drive, they also like to push the ball up the floor quickly. Johnson is an outstanding transition scorer and will take every opportunity to get an easy bucket. It is imperative that Georgia Tech gets back on defense and gets set.
  • Exploit size advantages. Pitt will likely play a mixture of 3 and 4 guard lineups. Given the lack of height on the floor for the Panthers, both Moses Wright and Jordan Usher should look to exploit their individual mismatches.