After getting eight full days to accumulate to the spring course load, Wake Forest (9-9) returns to the court against No. 15 North Carolina (14-4) at the Joel at 7 pm. While Wake- 105th in KenPom's rankings- has lost three of its last four games, all three came down to the wire against national powerhouses (Duke, Louisville, Syracuse).
Meanwhile, the Tar Heels- ranked 8th in KenPom- are coming off of some dramatic victories over Louisville and NC State, and a routine victory against Virginia Tech on Sunday. North Carolina's four losses came against teams in KenPom's Top 35 (Butler, Iowa, Kentucky, and Notre Dame).
The Tar Heels are a young team that hasn't fully found its identity yet, but they ooze talent. Named to the Naismith Award Watch-List, Marcus Paige has struggled to follow up his sensational sophomore season. While the point guard is still a dynamic scorer with great vision, he is averaging less points and assists than last season and his field goal percentage has dropped from 44 percent to 37.6 percent.
However, the only thing that has fallen off of Kennedy Meeks is his jelly belly. The big man dropped nearly 50 lbs between his freshman and sophomore seasons and his improvement is substantial on both ends of the court. He is the Tar Heels' second leading scorer at 12.6 ppg, while making 58.6% of his field goal attempts, and leads the team in rebounding at 8.4 per contest.
Wake Forest Offense vs North Carolina Defense
Wake Forest is certainly improving offensively under the tutelage of Danny Manning. For the first time this season, the Demon Deacons are ranked better than average in offensive adjusted efficiency (101.5 versus 101.1). But they have a tough task against the nation's 13th ranked defensive in adjusted efficiency. The Tar Heels do a great job at preventing three-point shots (7th in the nation) and limiting the opposing offense to tough looks at the basket. It comes as no surprise that North Carolina has the 10th best eFG% of 42 percentage because they boast length and athleticism across their front line. Meeks and Brice Johnson both are effective at altering shots and protecting the rim.
The Tar Heels play a legit 10 man rotation so they will throw a lot of various looks at Wake. But, as per usual, the Deacs are best on the run. Codi Miller-McIntyre has incredible body control and athleticism and is made to play in transition; but he needs some work in the half-court. I might sound like a broken record but Wake needs a third scorer to turn the Tar Heels away from Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas. This would preferably be a sharpshooter (Wilbekin, Hudson, Mitoglou or Leonard) to expand the defense and give the stars some room to attack.
North Carolina Offense vs Wake Forest Defense
The most interesting battle of the game will be right here on the glass. The Tar Heels rank second in the nation in offensive rebounding at 44.5 percent, while the Demon Deacons are third in defensive rebounding at 76.3 percent,. While posting mediocre shooting metrics, North Carolina's second chance points are the reason they rank 16th in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Meanwhile, the Deacs hold their hats on the defensive end. They play a stout, rotational man-to-man defense that limits three-point attempts. The key for Devin Thomas to limit Meeks from getting in a comfortable position in the high-post. Meeks has an array of nifty moves and has surprisingly good vision; the Tar Heels are most efficient running through the big man. Meanwhile, I anticipate Codi Miller-McIntyre will be assigned to Paige most the night and has the athleticism and length to disrupt his rhythm.
While the Demon Deacons have less talent than many of their ACC opponents thus far, they have performed admirably thus far and the progress in the last month is incredible. With over a week off to prepare for Wake's biggest rivals and the student section (FINALLY!) returning in full force, the Deacs will come out rejuvenated. I expect a barn burner in the open court between two frenetic, fast-paced teams. After a few tough (and unlucky) losses to superior teams, their luck changes tonight. Get your Mann toilet paper ready!
Wake Forest 76
North Carolina 74