Another encouraging season ended with the Demon Deacons feeling unfilled. There's no other way to describe it after a 90-60 loss to Kentucky in NCAA Tournament second round.
For all the good moments Wake Forest had, there was always the feeling that there could be something more. By the end, coach Dino Gaudio was left to defend the merits of the season and the team's 20-11 record.
Given the amount of experience on the roster, this was set up for something better than a first-round loss in the ACC tournament and a second-round departure in the NCAAs.
At least Gaudio broke free from one of his criticisms by finally winning a game beyond the regular season. There had been five consecutive postseason losses for the Demon Deacons until the 81-80 overtime victory against Texas in the NCAA Tournament's first round.
There have been signs that some of the younger players were developing, and that's a glimmer of hope for coming seasons. But whether Tony Woods, C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart can be a sturdy foundation is uncertain, especially if they're without Al-Farouq Aminu, who could certainly jump to the NBA after two college seasons.
The Demon Deacons didn't show that they had answers when Aminu was out of games. His foul trouble against Kentucky was immediately followed by a freefall by the Demon Deacons.
On the flip side, there were lots of clutch moments during the season. The Demon Deacons went 5-0 in overtime games, coming one victory away from matching an ACC record in that category. But if those games had gone the other way, there would be a different tint on this season.NOTES, QUOTES
FINAL RECORD: 20-11, 9-7, tied for fifth place in the ACC.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: It was largely a coming-out for senior point guard Ishmael Smith, who showed what he could do directing the offense on a regular basis. He was no longer in the shadow of Jeff Teague, who left early for the NBA. Smith's knack for game-winning shots was something that he carried right through his buzzer-beater in overtime to beat Texas in the NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu took additional steps in showing that he's on the verge of becoming an elite player within the conference. He averaged a double-double. Freshmen C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart showed they weren't afraid to take initiative on the offensive end.
WHAT WENT WRONG: A late-season slide largely will define this team. The Demon Deacons lost six of their last eight games.
Wake Forest generally relied on its defense, but when there were dents in the defense the Demon Deacons didn't seem capable of fixing those. They didn't find ways to keep games close when things started going wrong, with three of their last six losses coming by double-figure margins, including the 90-60 setback to Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "For me, I don't get caught up in all the drama." -- Coach Dino Gaudio, who said he couldn't be consumed with naysayers who looked at the team's late-season troubles as he wrapped up his third season as head coach. He was promoted to the position following the death of Skip Prosser.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THE GOOD NEWS: This team has developed some expectations based on strong starts the past couple of seasons, so there's at least a foundation in place. A 20-win season is nothing to frown about.
There should be opportunities for younger players to make impacts if the recruiting haul can produce at a decent clip.
Coach Dino Gaudio insists that the foundation begins with defense, and that's largely the case with this program. But there might not be the front line size available going forward, so that's something that might need to be addressed.
THE BAD NEWS: This was a senior-laden team, with four of them departing -- three starters and a key reserve. So the 2009-10 season should have been one in which more headway was evident in the postseason, but there wasn't much of that.
The Demon Deacons never fully compensated for their deficiencies in their ability to score from the perimeter. Their shooting woes caught up to them in the latter part of the season.
This program must wait on a decision from sophomore F Al-Farouq Aminu regarding his future.
KEY RETURNEES: If F Al-Farouq Aminu decides to stay, he immediately moves to the top of the list of top players in the ACC as he averaged a double-double. But he'll need a supporting cast, and that's something that must develop.
Two freshmen will return and they picked up valuable experience. G C.J. Harris was a starter most of the season and it might be his turn to run the team, though without experienced backcourt mates at his side he might be in for different treatment from opponents. F Ari Stewart showed a sweet shooting touch and the willingness to take shots without hesitation.
--C Tony Woods scored 11 points in the ACC tournament game vs. Miami and in the NCAA Tournament opener against Texas. That marked the first time the sophomore reached double-digit scoring in consecutive games since the first two games of his career.
--G L.D. Williams scored six points in the final game of his career, pushing him above the 1,000-point mark. He finished with 1,005 as he was a starter in his final 69 games.
--F Al-Farouq Aminu was considered a potential early departure in the spring of 2009, so certainly speculation about his future will follow him this spring after he completed his second season with the Demon Deacons. He's still raw at times offensively, but his instincts are difficult to ignore as he led the ACC in rebounding.
--G Ishmael Smith wasn't effective against Kentucky in the finale, but he'll have fond memories of the previous game when his jumper with less than two seconds remaining in overtime beat Texas. It capped a super game for the senior, as he grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds to go with 19 points. He was three assists away from the first triple-double for a Wake Forest player since Tim Duncan in 1996.
Previous Report: 04/04/2010