It goes without saying that Sunday's game against the Tigers is extremely important for the Demon Deacons. With a win on senior night, Wake Forest will likely lock up a spot in the NCAA Tournament and end the bubble talk before going to Greensboro to play in the ACC Tournament on Thursday. If the losing streak is extended to five games, the pressure that the Deacs face going into the ACC Tourney will be monumental.
Click through for the preview of Sunday night's big matchup (6:00, Fox Sports Net)
Clemson comes into the game playing very well as of late, winning five of their last six. This streak includes a road win at Florida State in which they played ugly (53-50) and a win at home on senior night against Georgia Tech where they played very well offensively (91-80). For the Tigers, everything starts with senior leader Trevor Booker. Booker has improved tremendously over the course of his career and has always been known for his tough and athletic play around the rim. With his added ability to score off the drive and an occasional long range jumper, Booker will be a tough assignment for Wake's Al-Farouq Aminu.
The Tigers have several other players than can make the opposing team pay as well. Demontez Stitt and Andre Young are solid scorers at the point guard position. Both shoot 38% from distance, so Ish Smith, CJ Harris and LD Williams will need to account for them at all times. Tanner Smith, David Potter and freshman Noel Johnson are also capable of getting hot from three.
To complement Trevor Booker in the paint, Clemson features Jerai Grant and freshmen Devin Booker and Milton Jennings. While none of these players have big averages on the season, they do hit the glass hard and can finish. The younger Booker is going to be a big factor in the ACC sooner rather than later.
Matchups to Watch
The aforementioned Aminu vs. Booker duel will be the center of attention. In his last game against the towers of Florida State, Aminu was held scoreless for the first time in his career. It is hard to imagine him struggling like this in consecutive games. Booker has the quickness advantage, but Aminu will try to use his length to bother the experienced senior. Both guys live on the offensive glass, so whichever one is able to collect the most second-chance points will likely be the winner.
The other key matchup is Clemson's press vs. Ish Smith. In past Wake games against Clemson, Ish Smith and Jeff Teague were able to carve through the Tiger's press and create offense for their team. While I think it would be smart for Clemson to lay back and make the Deacs exhibit some half-court offense, I would be surprised if Oliver Purnell actually calls off the press. Instead, we are likely to see a fast-paced game that features Smith dribbling through the press and finding open teammates in transition. An up-and-down game would be a welcome sight for this Wake team, which as played in some real defensive battles lately.
The emotional aspect of this game is something that cannot be ignored as well. Barring a disaster, this will be the last game that Ish Smith, L.D. Williams, Chas McFarland and David Weaver (probably Aminu as well) will ever play in the Joel. These four seniors have certainly seen the highs and lows of college basketball, going from the bottom of the ACC in their freshmen season to #1 in the nation last season. From L.D.'s amazing dunk against Georgia Tech to Ish's two game winners against VT and Miami, these guys have left us with many great memories. Most importantly, they love Wake Forest and leave it all on the floor every night. While each of these seniors have their flaws, there is no denying their heart. Smith will leave Wake Forest in second place on the school's career assist list, only behind Muggsy Bogues.
The Final Verdict
As previously stated, this game means more for Wake on a few different levels. The Deacs need the win to end their recent skid and to stay out of the bubble danger zone. They also want to leave it all on their home floor for the final time. Clemson has probably already wrapped up a bid with their recent play, but they can earn an ACC Tourney bye with a win on Sunday. I expect Wake to come out a bit tight with so much on the line. With Clemson you never really know what you are going to get, but hopefully it is not the team that scorched the nets against Georgia Tech.
Once the sweat builds, I think this will be a fast-paced game predicated on offensive rebounding and key shots from deep. As always, Wake will look to freshmen CJ Harris and Ari Stewart to get things rolling from three, while Clemson will look to Stitt, Young, Potter and Smith. Ultimately, it will be on the shoulders of Smith and Aminu to get this team back on the right path. If not, the Deacs will backpedal into tournament time with quite a bit of work to do.