Wake Forest basketball is officially back tonight at 7:00 at the LJVM Coliseum, where the Deacs will take on UNC Asheville in the first game of the season for both teams.
The Deacs are coming off of a 96-71 exhibition win over D.II Young Harris, while the Bulldogs defeated Brevard 81-58 in its only exhibition game.
This will be the 8th matchup between Asheville and Wake Forest, with the Deacs winning all prior games.
Most previews will be highly statistical in nature, but obviously there has not been a game played yet this season so that is difficult to do at this juncture. Instead I will take a look at what UNC Asheville did last season, as well as its expectations for this year and beyond.
The Bulldogs return three starters from a squad that went 17-15 (10-6, Big South) last year. Former Asheville guard Nick McDevitt enters his second year at the helm of the team.
It seems to me at first glance that Asheville wants to do two things to be successful: push the tempo and get the ball in the hands of sophomore guard Andrew Rowsey.
Asheville was 15th in the nation last year in adjusted tempo at 71.3 possessions per game (Wake Forest was at 68.1, while Tulsa was at 68.2). At the beginning of the season they were a lot slower than where they ended. It it fair to say that it was a result of learning the offense, as well as playing against better competition than faced in the Big South. By the end of the season, mid-70's were the norm, with low 80's not unheard of.
This brings us to sophomore Andrew Rowsey who averaged 20.3 PPG as a freshman. Not only did he score and score a lot, he did in a pretty efficient manner with a 111.2 offensive rating. He shot 83% from the foul line while drawing 4.7 fouls per game on average. He also shot 41% from the perimeter. This will be a stout test for Madison Jones in the first game of the season.
Rowsey did have trouble at times protecting the basketball, which should play itself right into the hands of Jones length and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball.
Offensively the Bulldogs fared pretty well, ranking 121st in the nation with a 106.9 adjusted efficiency rating (1.069 points per possession). On the other hand, defense was a huge liability throughout the season with a 111.5 adjusted efficiency rating. Keep in mind that those numbers are "tempo-free", so while the pace may influence the style and type of shots taken by both teams, it doesn't necessarily just mean that Asheville scored a lot because they had a lot of possessions and vice versa.
Another name to keep an eye on is Kevin Vannatta, a freshman guard that had 18 points in the exhibition vs. Brevard to tie Rowsey for the team lead.
The Bulldogs look to go small a lot of the time and should start a three guard lineup of Rowsey, Vannatta, and David Robertson. While height was always going to be a problem for Asheville to overcome, this will produce even more of a mismatch on the inside with Devin Thomas.
As far as Wake Forest goes, I expect the same starting lineup from last week with: Jones, Miller-McIntyre, McClinton, Thomas, and Mitoglu to get the start. If there is a change (and I don't anticipate one), I could see Cornelius Hudson sliding in the wing spot after his strong performance last Friday.
I think the Deacs may start out slow with opening night jitters, but Asheville struggled to put away Brevard until the second half in the exhibition game. The backcourt matchup should be entertaining to watch, but ultimately I think Devin Thomas will have another big game and lead the Deacs to a comfortable victory.