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Wake Forest vs. Florida: Preview

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Six days after a win over Samford, Wake Forest faces off against the Florida Gators in the Orange Bowl Classic.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons fly down to the Sunshine State to face off against the Florida Gators in the Orange Bowl Classic. The game is played (ironically) at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida- the home of the Florida Panthers hockey team- approximately five hours from the University of Florida.

After reaching the Final Four last year, the youthful Gators jumped out of the gate slow with a 6-4 record. Their record is deceiving, however, as their four losses are to quality opponents (Miami, Georgetown, UNC, @Kansas). KenPom rates Florida as No. 17 in the nation. They are the only team in the KenPom's Top 50 who have four losses.

While the Gators boast "quality losses," they are bereft of impressive wins. A win over No. 123 Wake Forest would be their second best of the season- Yale ranks as their best.

Wake Forest Offense vs Florida Defense

Wake Forest Offense Ken Pom Statistic Florida Defense
98.2 Rating 89.3
47 eFG% 43.7
21 TO% 23.1
36.5 Reb% 71.3
50 FTA/FGA 32.4

Florida ranks No. 11 in the nation in adjusted defensive rating. Billy Donovan plays an aggressive man-to-man defense that forces turnovers on 23.1 percent of possessions. While the Gators are young, they are full of blue-chip prospects and dynamic athletes. Down low, the duo of Dorian Finney-Smith and Jon Horford (Big Al's brother) effectively protects the rim. Both are versatile athletes, so the Demon Deacons must rely on precise ball movement and mismatches to score. Expect to see lots of Devin Thomas and Konstantinos Mitoglou together. Because of The Greek Deac's shooting prowess, one of the interior defenders will be forced to guard the perimeter.

On the wings, the Gators start blue chip recruit Devin Robinson and junior Michael Frazier. It will be tough for the Deacs to get any penetration on the lanky Robinson and the wily Frazier. Due to Florida's incredible team athleticism, Codi Miller-McIntyre and the crew must get out in transition on a missed shot. Otherwise, Wake must be opportunistic on offense and MAKE FREE THROWS! Wake is No. 22 in the nation at getting to the CHARITY stripe. They need to convert on these gifts.

Finally, it will be interesting to see how Mitchell Wilbekin performs. The freshman has Wake's best offensive rating at 114.4. The sharpshooting guard grew up in Gainesville and his older brother Scottie was SEC Player of the Year for the Gators last season. The other day, Donovan lauded Mitchell saying "[him and Scottie] are different players, Mitchell is more gifted offensively." Mitchell will have a chip on his shoulder against him hometown team. Meanwhile, Donovan will not want to be pieced apart by a freshman from his own backyard.

Florida Offense Ken Pom Statistic Wake Forest Defense
107.7 Rating 95.2
51.6 eFG% 50.1
19.7 TO% 21.3
38.1 Reb% 78.3
28 FTA/FGA 37.5

Ranking No. 36 in adjusted efficiency, Florida is also extremely effective on offense. They play, however at the pace of a sloth. They rank No. 331 in the country with an adjusted tempo of 61.9- for this reason, the Deacs need to throw off their rhythm and pick up the pace. Their leading scorer is Frazier at 15.2 points per game. The lockdown shooter hits the three-pointer at a 40.6 percent clip. Also, Finney-Smith takes almost 28 percent of the team's shots, with a field goal percent of 51.3 percent and averages 12.3 points per game.

At point guard, the Gators start five-star sophomore Kasey Hill. While Hill is not a great shooter, he has adept handles and great vision, averaging 4.9 assists per game. Watch out for fellow sophomore Chris Walker. Coming off the bench, the 6-10 high-flyer is a human highlight reel and is fearless in the air. In the McDonalds All-American Dunk Competition versus Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Aaron Gordon, Walker came out victorious.

Overall, the Gators are incredibly effective in half-court set pieces. They combine lights-out shooters with elite athletes. They do rank No. 328 in the nation at getting to the free throw line. But all-around, they pose a nightmare of problems for the Deacs.

For the Deacs to have any chance, they need to own the defensive glass- where they rank second in the nation- and limit the meticulous Gators to one shot. On missed shots, they have to push the tempo and try to get an easy transition bucket; but if the look isn't there, don't force it. Also, Wake needs to continue getting to the free throw line and convert. They need to have their best game of the season- by far- against arguably their best opponent thus far.

Six days since their last game against Samford- without classes- will serve Wake well. They will come in highly-motivated and Danny Manning will show lots of stunts on offense. I do believe the first half will be close, but the Gators will run away in the second half.

Florida 73

Wake Forest 62