After a year hiatus from the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Wake Forest will step back into the competition in a major way, hosting the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Tuesday night at 7 at the LJVM.
The Golden Gophers are led by Richard Pitino, son of the great Rick Pitino. Pitino led Minnesota to the NIT title last year with a 65-63 victory over SMU in April. In addition to that, they currently rank 42nd in the nation in experience, with a senior laden squad.
Despite a pretty tough schedule to start the year, Minnesota sits at 4-2 with wins over Western Kentucky, Franklin Pierce, UMBC, and Georgia. The two losses came to Louisville on opening night and St. John's last week.
Much to the chagrin of Wake fans (and what would be expected as the son of Rick Pitino), Richard Pitino runs a high intensity man-to-man defense that is predicated on wreaking havoc and forcing turnovers. It will be a good experience for the Deacs to see if they have learned anything from the Arkansas fiasco from a couple of weeks ago.
The good news is that Minnesota has struggled mightily for the year from the field. It seems like everybody has made every contested shot against the Deacs this year, so this could possibly be a nice break. They are shooting 45.8 eFG% (weighs 3-pointers as 60%), and a pretty woeful 55% from the free throw.
The primary player to keep an eye on is Sr. guard Andre Hollins. He has started off a little slower this year from an efficiency standpoint than he would like, but dropped 22 points on Louisville. One would think that he will look for his to get to the basket a little better to get out of the rut he has been in the past two games (9 and 8 points respectively).
According to the KenPom "depth chart", the rest of the starting five holds two seniors and two juniors (both at the wing position).
Once again rebounding seems to be a place that the Deacs might find a sizable advantage. Through the Delaware State game Wake Forest ranks first in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage at 19.9% (meaning opposing teams grab less than one out of every five misses on the offensive side of things). Minnesota ranks 235th in the country in getting offensive rebounds at 28.8%.
Looking at things from a Wake Forest perspective, the Deacs will try to bounce back from an extremely disappointing loss to Delaware State on Friday night. There is no way to sugarcoat that loss, Danny Manning's squad was outplayed, outclassed, and inevitably outscored by a MEAC team, which is unacceptable at any point as an ACC team.
Another quick look to KenPom's "depth chart" shows that the starting lineup of: CMM, Wilbekin, Hudson, Thomas, and Leonard is the most frequent lineup at approximately 20%. To look into that deeper (and obviously these are not perfect observations given the fact that it's automated), but the breakdown of most minutes per position is as follows:
PG- Madison Jones (48%), CMM (46%)
SG- Wilbekin (61%), CMM (13%)
SF- Hudson (49%), McClinton (33%)
PF- Thomas (54%), Rountree (30%)
C- Mitoglou (43%), Leonard (34%), Thomas (14%)
Despite the fact that Manning gave a lot of reserve and deep role players minutes early on against lesser competition, these 9 guys still have been on the court the most. I thoroughly expect the bench to be 9 deep in terms of meaningful minutes, with Watson, Washington, and Overton playing spot minutes when called on due to foul trouble or specific situations.
The biggest things that have changed early in the season that I didn't expect is the playing time that Hudson and Wilbekin are getting over other players. I figured Wilbekin was a year away from impact on the court, and really had no idea what to expect from Hudson. They have both been pleasant surprises so far.
As strange as it sounds, tonight appears to be a tough matchup for both teams. Both teams are solid defensively, but struggle from the offensive side of things. Ultimately I think the Wake will handle the press better than they have been in the past, but Minnesota is just the better, more experienced team at this point in the season.