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Wake Forest vs Duke: Preview

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Dissecting the in-state battle between Wake Forest and undefeated Duke Blue Devils.

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

After a remarkable Wake Forest effort fell short against No. 5 Louisville, the Demon Deacons (8-7, 0-2) have no time to rest up with a game against No. 2 Duke (13-0, 1-0) tonight at 9 p.m. at the Joel. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils look as polished as ever after torching Boston College 85-62 to open ACC season and defeating Michigan State, Wisconsin and Connecticut in non-conference play.

On Duke's last trip to Winston-Salem, the Deacs upset the Blue Devils 82-72. But these teams look nothing like last season. The Blue Devils feature a fresh crop of freshmen studs with All-America candidate Jahlil Okafor, Justice Winslow, Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen, while the Demon Deacons boast a new coach in Danny Manning and a renewed demeanor.

Wake Forest Offense vs. Duke Defense

After being one of the worst offensive teams for the first month, the Deacs have steadily improved and now rank just below average (D-1 average: 100.3). Meanwhile, Duke showcases the 15th best defensive efficiency rating in the nation. While they have only a decent turnover rate (100th in the country), the Blue Devils are stellar on-ball defenders, rotate well off of screens and contest jump shots, while still fouling at an incredibly low rate. They rank 10th in 3-point percentage defended at 27.1 percent, while ranking second best in the country in foul rate. Interestingly, the Deacs are 13th in the country at getting to the charity stripe, so something's gotta give. Also, the Deacs need to capitalize on the offensive glass, where they have fared well all season, to have a chance at unseating the undefeated Blue Devils.

While Duke's freshmen get all of the media attention, Wake has freshmen who see substantial minutes and are very productive on the court. Interestingly, the Demon Deacons with the best offensive rating thus far are freshmen Mitchell Wilbekin (120.1) and Dinos Mitoglou (114.5). Their ability to knock down shots from beyond to arc is critical-especially against an interior presence like Jahlil Okafor-to open up the lane for Codi Miller-McIntyre's drives and Devin Thomas' post moves.

Duke Offense vs. Wake Forest Defense

On the other side of the ball, the Blue Devils boast the best offense in college basketball. Every single player on their team has an efficiency rating over 107. This includes Okafor's 123.9 rating while being targeted on over 28 percent of possessions, resulting in a 19.5 ppg and 8.7 rebounds in a conventional stat-line. Meanwhile senior guard Quinn Cook and the speedy freshman Jones are the lead ball-handlers and both score offensive ratings of 132.9. Hey, even Marshall Plumlee has an offensive rating of 157!

However, the Deacs have had a very stout defense this season. This is especially due to their defensive rebounding prowess, ranked second in the nation, and their ability to contest three-point shots. Devin Thomas ranks as the third best defensive rebounder in he nation. Both he and Mitoglou are ranked for blocked shots. Wilbekin also has a very high steal rate.

For the Deacs to have a chance, they need to dominate the boards, limit Duke to one shot and get out in transition. Wake is not a good half-court team so it is critical that they exploit positional mismatches on the fast break. While the performance against Louisville is very promising about this team going forward, the Blue Devils are a different monster.

Prediction:

Duke 81

Wake Forest 68