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Looking ahead: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Editor’s note: It’s never too early to start to look ahead to next season. Over the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 who could make noise on the national stage. Today, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

If the only barometer to judge Danny Manning's first season at Wake Forest was wins and losses, well, then he didn’t have a successful year. If we are grading Manning on the foundation he established for the future, then we’re talking success story. The Deacons played with a toughness not seen in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for quite some time.

Manning didn’t have the personnel or the experience to navigate into the top half of the ACC standings, but Wake isn’t as far off as it may seem. Four of its league losses (six overall) came in two-possession games including at Virginia, where Codi Miller-McIntyre failed to get a shot off against Malcolm Brogdon with a chance to take the lead with 12 seconds left. In losses to both Louisville and Duke, Wake led with less than six minutes to go in the game only to watch it fade away.

The Deacons could have claimed moral victories with each encouraging showing against three teams that were ranked in the top 10 when they played. Manning wouldn’t allow it. A close loss was still an agonizing loss to Manning, which is the same competitive temperament that led him to a Hall of Fame career as a player at Kansas.

Manning’s first step was to change the culture within the program. He’s done that by establishing his set of expectations. That’s especially evident in recruiting where Manning is aggressively going after elite recruits in a way Wake has shied away from in the past. The Deacs normally don’t bump heads with North Carolina, Duke or Kentucky over recruits. But with his targets in the class of 2016 -- Harry Giles (No. 2 overall), Edrice Adebayo (No. 8) and Kwe Parker (No. 59) -- Manning is doing just that. It’s a statement in itself that Wake is looking to climb back on the national scene.

What the immediate future holds: It took a while during nonconference play last season for the Deacs to get fully acclimated to the playing style Manning wanted to establish. That, of course, won’t be the case this season. Wake should be better from the start especially considering it only lost Aaron Rountree (transfer) and Darius Leonard (graduation) from its top nine in the rotation.

Everything starts with Miller-McIntyre and forward Devin Thomas, who will both be seniors. Miller-McIntyre ranked in the ACC’s top 10 in assists (4.3) and field goal percentage (45.0) and was 11th in scoring at 14.5 points per game. Thomas ranked fourth in the league in rebounding at 8.8 per game. Two of his best performances of the season came against the best competition as he dropped a career-high 31 points on Louisville and followed with 24 points against Duke.

How far Wake moves up the standings could depend on how much its sophomores improve from last season. Mitchell Wilbekin, a combo guard, must improve his shot selection after having a tendency to strictly float around the 3-pooint line. He logged 127 3-point attempts to only 52 from inside the arc. Ironically, he shot just 30 percent on 2-point attempts and 38 percent from 3-point range.

Konstantinos “Dinos” Mitoglou, a 6-foot-10 forward, averaged 9.7 points and 4.6 rebounds as a freshman and could become a scary stretch 4 next season. Mitoglu was the Deacs' most dependable threat from deep in the second half of the season. During the first 16 games, he shot just 30.2 percent from 3-point range. In their final 16 games he shot 42.3 percent (39 of 92) from behind the arc.

Cornelius Hudson, the younger brother of Oakland Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree, could be the most versatile player on Wake’s roster. The 6-foot-6 forward has the length and athleticism to be effective in a number of areas for the Deacons, especially defensively.

The amount of returnees will allow Manning to ease in his trio of freshmen. Wake’s recruiting class ranked 33rd according to Recruiting Nation, which was its highest since being 23rd in 2012. The prize of the class was 7-footer Doral Moore, who ranked No. 70, and is a true center Wake's lineup has been lacking.