The Wake Forest Demon Deacons were less than stellar in their season-opening win over the UMBC Retrievers. Now, less than 48 hours later, the Demon Deacons travel to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania to take on the Bucknell Bison. The Deacs won last year's matchup in Winston-Salem by a score of 60-53. What will happen in today's game?
Wake Forest opened up as a 1.5 point favorite, but Bucknell is now a 4-point favorite. This line can be attributed to Wake Forest being on the road, and being without Codi Miller-McIntyre, Cornelius Hudson, and Rondale Watson. Wake Forest is a dramatically different team with CMM and Hudson in the lineup. Trent VanHorn, a walk-on for all intents and purposes, played 25 minutes. Grant O'Brien, another walk-on, played 10. That's not a recipe for sustained success.
Bucknell went 19-15 last year and returns the majority of their players, including Chris Hass. They won their opener against Division III Shenadoah by a score of 107-61. Hass scored 18 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in just 22 minutes of action. The senior had an efficient offensive rating last year, and shot 39% from three. Wake Forest will probably begin the game by defending Hass with Greg McClinton, and McClinton has to be ready to chase Hass all afternoon. He cannot let Hass get loose and run off screens.
Sophomore Nana Foulland shot 55% from the field last year, and was also a strong rebounder. Against Shenadoah, he scored 20 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. I do expect Wake's length to give some problems to Foulland in this contest. Another player to watch is freshman Kimbal Mackenzie. He went 3-4 from deep against Shenadoah, and finished with 17 points, and 7 assists. Bryant Crawford must contain him.
Last year's Bucknell team's strengths were that they shot well from deep, avoided turnovers, did a nice job of getting to the foul line, and did an excellent job on the defensive glass. Their weaknesses were that they got their shots blocked often, did not force many turnovers, did not block many shots, and did not grab that many offensive rebounds. They were a below average defensive team.
How will Wake Forest be successful in this game? Wake needs to pound the offensive glass with the same intensity that they did in the second half of the UMBC game. Devin Thomas, Dinos Mitoglou, Greg McClinton, and John Collins have to be relentless in that area. Devin, Dinos, and Collins were excellent against UMBC. That has to continue. I hope Danny Manning gives Collins more than 11 minutes, because he deserves it. I don't care if Wake has to play three bigs at a time, they need to get their best players on the court.
Bryant Crawford needs to settle down. He has some unforced turnovers, and Wake cannot give Bucknell those gifts today. Bucknell does a poor job of forcing turnovers, so Wake cannot do it for them. Mitchell Wilbekin went 2-6 from deep last year and finished with 8 points. I think Wake can get him some open looks by posting up Devin Thomas, forcing double teams, and then kicking out to Mitch.
This Wake Forest team, as currently constructed, is not deep. Greg McClinton fouled out of the last game, and Bryant Crawford had 4. Thankfully, Devin Thomas and Dinos Mitoglou had just 2 and 3 fouls, respectively. If either of those two gets in trouble, then Wake Forest is in a lot of trouble.
This is going to be a tough game, and the recipe for a win involves pounding it into DT and Dinos. Crawford will have to settle down, and Mitch will have to connect from deep. I look forward to seeing how Wake performs in this early test.