Time: 7:30 (yes, during all 3 important CFB games tonight)
Location: PNC Arena
Vegas Line: Wake +9.5
KenPom Prediction: Wake 63 - NC State 72 (19% chance Wake victory)
In a cruel joke played by ACC Commissioner John Swofford, Wake Forest and NC State will open ACC play tonight during the ACC football championship. The Deacs' next ACC game is almost a full month from now (Jan 4 vs Louisville) and they will play more 5 non-conference games in the meantime.
Wake Forest is coming off back to back home losses to Delaware St and Minnesota where experienced junior Devin Thomas combined for 4 points. On a team that struggles from the perimeter, it is vital that Thomas breaks his slump in short order. His post contributions not only lead to high percentage shots, but can also serve to give Wake better looks and driving lanes, as teams collapse on him in the paint. You get the sense that when Thomas has received post touches the last two games, he is in a rush to force up a shot which often hasn't been pretty. If Thomas can get on the offensive boards early and get a couple easy ones, it may serve to settle him down a bit and get him back to what we have witnessed often in the past.
On the bright side for Wake Forest, starting freshman guard Mitchell Wilbekin looks to be a dangerous perimeter threat early in his career. According the KenPom, he currently has an offensive rating of 113.1, which is about 24 points higher than his guard counterparts Madison Jones and Codi Miller-McIntyre. Even with some shooting struggles early in the season, Wilbekin has turned it on as of late and is connecting on 44% of his three point attempts.
Another concern for the Demon Deacons thus far is allowing opposing guards to have big nights. Rowsey (26), English (27), May (32), and Hollins (27) have all carved up the Wake defense early in the season. Often the early defense is solid, but when the opposition gets by their initial defender the help defense breaks down after subsequent passes. In other words, help the helper. This is especially concerning on Saturday, as Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey is a high scoring guard who will look to add his name to the list above. Lacey is averaging 17 ppg and shooting 42% from 3, including a 26 point performance against Richmond.
Overall, NC State currently has the 44th most efficient offense and the 83rd most efficient defense according to KenPom. They have been very good taking care of the ball this season, an area in which Wake as struggled mightily (16th in the country vs Wake's 261). A positive for Wake is that NC State had struggled to force turnovers thus far, so pressure defense should not be as big of a factor as it was against Arkansas and Minnesota.
In addition to Lacey, NC State has a couple other guards that are averaging over 11 ppg this season in Ralston Turner and Cat Barber. Turner is a 40% 3 point shooter whereas Barber is a penetrating point guard who will beat you by getting into the lane. The primary post players are Beejay Anya and Kyle Washington. Anya is a mountain, who I fear Wake's undersized bigs will struggle with if he is able to get touches close to the basket. Washington had a breakout game against Purdue (17 and 9), in which he exhibited his midrange jumper a bit too.
Wake's ACC road struggles the past 4 years are well-documented, so it will be interesting to see what kind of performance Danny Manning gets out of his team in his first conference road game. The stats are certainly not in the Deacs' favor and it will take a bounce back performance from Thomas as well as some perimeter shooting to keep Wake within striking distance.