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Crothers: Nice Guys Finish Last

Friday, January 28, 2011 12:11am

When I first emailed my editor to tell him I was considering writing about Wake Forest this week, he promptly responded with the following: I think there’s always room to kick a team while it’s down.

You could almost see the saliva dripping from his fangs. But I must admit that I was kind of thinking the same thing. Wouldn’t it be fun to play hammer to Wake Forest’s nail? Maybe get to know what it feels like to be Manny Pacquiao.

What could be simpler? It’s all right there in Chapter 2 of the columnist’s manual, entitled Cheap Shots. It’s foolproof. Trust me, I’ve written a few of these.

I probably shouldn’t share this, but they even have software for it. Slide the disk into your laptop, hit F9 and voila! An entire snarky form column appears on the screen, replete with lame jokes and narrow-minded condescension. All you have to do is fill in the school. I giddily typed in W-A-K-E F-O-R-E-S-…

Then with my finger poised over the “T”, suddenly I felt a pang. What the heck was that? My conscience? I still have one of those?

Sure enough, devil on one shoulder, angel on the other. The angel appeared in the form of a dear friend.

When I mentioned to my friend, a longtime ACC observer, that I was writing this column, you’d have thought I was telling her I planned to club a baby seal.

“But Wake is so lovable and non-threatening,” she said. “Wake is like the Miss Congeniality of the ACC.”

I knew immediately she was right. No other ACC basketball program has enjoyed so much success with so little derision, at least in part because the Demon Deacons have no natural conference rival. Seriously, have you ever tried hating on Wake Forest? It makes your soul hurt.

So, how could I?

Sure, Wake game tape should be accompanied by a soundtrack of Yakety Sax (Google it and listen while you read the rest of this paragraph). Yes, Wake has lost its first five ACC games by an average of nearly 26 points and come no closer than 19. OK, Georgia Tech did score more points against the Deacs in the first half last week than Wake scored in the entire game. Yeah, I know Wake has lost home games to Stetson, Winthrop and Presbyterian, who have a combined record of 24-37. And, well, Wake’s best win is against Hampton, with an RPI of 111, while Wake’s own RPI is 239, just one spot behind the University of Texas … Arlington.

That said, it's hard not to muster some compassion for a program that has lost Jeff Teague, James Johnson and Al-Farouq Aminu early to the NBA over the last two seasons, compelling beleaguered first-year coach Jeff Bzdelik to sometimes play four freshmen and a sophomore at the same time. Also, let’s not forget that Wake’s descent stems back to tragedy. Does anybody believe that Wake would be where it is today if the late Skip Prosser was still the Deacons coach?

Apparently the only fans that can bear to hate on Wake are their own. The message boards reveal that Deacs fans are turning Bzdelik into an adjective. It’s kind of catchy, actually. I’m thinking about adding it to my lexicon. I know Tech’s bad, but those other guys are downright bzdelik!

Hard to believe that just two seasons ago Wake Forest was ranked No. 1 in the nation and that the Deacons reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last year. Wake athletic director Ron Wellman said that part of the reason he fired coach Dino Gaudio after the 2010 season was because he didn’t like his team’s performance in the NCAA tournament. Problem solved.

In ACC history only five teams have ever finished winless in conference play. The last to “accomplish” it was Maryland in 1987, another collapse sparked by tragedy. No ACC team has ever gone 0-for-16. Should the Deacons lose to Virginia at the Joel on Saturday, they likely won’t be favored to win another game all season.

Wake ranks 11th in the ACC in scoring offense, 12th in scoring defense, 12th in scoring margin, 11th in field goal percentage, 12th in field goal percentage defense, 12th in rebounding margin, 12th in assists, 11th in steals, 12th in turnover margin, 12th in assist/turnover ratio, 11th in offensive rebounds and 12th in defensive rebound percentage.

In layman’s terms, that means the Deacons can’t score, can’t stop their opponents from scoring, can’t shoot straight, can’t corral their voluminous misfires, can’t take the ball from the other team, but do seem to relish giving it back to them. As a result, Wake ranks 12th in attendance.

Fear not, Deacs. This reformed columnist will stand by you. I’ll be your last fan if I have to. At your March 3 home finale against Georgia Tech, I will be there (in spirit anyway, I mean that’s a haul over to Winston-Salem.)

And if this lovable, non-threatening, god-awful Wake Forest team can somehow find a way to beat the slightly less god-awful Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon, I have a great idea for my next column.

Hit F9. Type in V-I-R-G…

Tim Crothers is the author of The Man Watching: A Biography of Anson Dorrance, the Unlikely Architect of the Greatest College Sports Dynasty Ever, and he is the co-author of Hard Work: A Life On and Off the Court, the autobiography of Roy Williams.