Since this is (thankfully) the last non-football weekend for a while, we thought it would be a good idea to take a more detailed early look at the Wake Forest basketball schedule before we get caught up with the action on the field. Click through for the details...
As I mentioned when the basketball schedule was first released, the games that pop out instantly to almost every Deacon fan are the back-to-back road matchups against Duke and North Carolina on January 17th and 20th, respectively. That will certainly be a huge test relatively early on in the ACC schedule. Duke returns very experienced and skilled players in Jon Scheyer and Kyler Singler, but will also be extremely thin at the guard position. It is tough to tell what Carolina will bring to the table since they will be relying heavily on freshmen Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald as well as inexperienced point guard Larry Drew. On the other hand, their front line is stacked with Ed Davis, John Henson and Deon Thompson, among others. Obviously, it is very difficult to leave either Cameron or the Smith Center with a win, so stealing one of those two would be huge for the Deacs.
Rewinding to the beginning of the season, Gaudio and company begin rather softly with five games that should go in the left column. All these games will be played at LJVM except for the ECU matchup, which takes place at the Greensboro Coliseum. This should allow time for the coaching staff to develop a somewhat consistent rotation and give newcomers Stewart, Harris and Tucker an opportunity to get their feet wet. Hopefully, the decision on whether to start really big with McFarland and Woods or to put Aminu at the four with Stewart at the three will be made as well.
Once the first week of December passes, we should have a pretty good idea about expectations for the remainder of the season. The 12/1 and 12/5 road trips to Purdue and Gonzaga are huge early season non-conference games that could be big boosts for Wake's resume when tournament time rolls around. Purdue returns one of the top teams in the country and, quite honestly, this is the game I am least optimistic about on the entire schedule. On the other hand, the game against the Zags at The Kennel is a toss up. They definitely have a hostile environment in Spokane and will be excited to have an ACC opponent in town, but they also lost four of their five top players in Pargo, Austin Daye, Josh Heytvelt and Micah Downs. It is also worth noting that both of these games will be on national television.
After a couple more must wins, including an interesting game in UNC Wilmington's gym, the Deacs open up ACC play early (12/20) against N.C. State. On paper the Pack look to be one of the weaker teams in the conference, so a home win here will be imperative. Moving on, the Deacs finish up their non-conference schedule with an intriguing matchup against Xavier in the inaugural Skip Prosser Classic. The ties between Wake and Xavier are plentiful and I must admit that it will be quite odd to see ex-Wake assistant Pat Kelsey perched on the Musketeer bench directly in front of my seat at the Joel. Since Xavier tends to dominate the Atlantic 10 each and every year, a win here would be an RPI booster. Their teams are always tough and Coach Mack will be hungry in his first year as the head man, so this figures to be an entertaining game.
The ACC race heats up for good starting January 9th, as the team travels to Miami to take on the Jack McClinton-less Hurricanes and then returns home for their only regular season game against Greivis Vasquez and company. After both of these teams embarrassed our Deacs last season (Miami in Coral Gables and Maryland in the ACC Tournament), one would think Wake would be out for blood. Getting at least one out of two of these (preferably both) is important since the next two games are the aforementioned Duke and Carolina matchups.
The stretch from January 23rd to February 20th is by far the most critical and where the Wake has the chance to establish themselves as a top four or five ACC team. None of the games are particularly daunting, except possibly the game at Georgia Tech. With home games against UVA, Miami, GT and BC and manageable road games at UVA, N.C. State, VT and GT, this is where the Deacs could possibly manage five to seven wins and pave their way to an NCAA bid.
The difficulty of the last three games increases significantly, as Wake hosts Carolina, travels to face a lengthy Florida State team and, finally, returns home to play Clemson in Ish Smith, L.D. Williams, Chas McFarland, David Weaver and Al-Farouq Aminu's final game at the Joel. This marks the second year in a row that the Deacs closed their season against the Tigers.
In my opinion, the unbalanced ACC schedule is relatively kind to Wake Forest this season. The Deacs do not have to travel to Maryland, Clemson or Boston College this season and only have one game against Duke, Virginia Tech and Florida State. Since I consider Duke, Clemson, Maryland and Florida State as upper tier teams next season, avoiding those second matchups while playing N.C. State, Virginia and Miami twice seems like a good opportunity.
Overall I am pleased with the schedule this season, especially considering that Wake will be on national television 12 times and every ACC game will be televised in the region. The slate is open for the Deacons to grab 20-25 wins and try to redeem themselves for the postseason that we all never want to be reminded of again.
Be sure to stay tuned to BSD as basketball season approaches, as I will be doing a rundown of each ACC team and predictions of how it will all shake out.
Now it is time to turn our attention to the Baylor Bears. Look out for our preview of the big game soon!