Wake Forest kicks off its inaugural showing in the Maui Invitational this afternoon at 5 EST (approximately, or 30 minutes after the St. Johns-Vanderbilt game ends) against the Indiana Hoosiers in Maui. The game will air on ESPN2, and the Hoosiers open up as a 12.5 point favorite.
Indiana has won three straight games to start its year, including a dominant 21 point victory over Creighton at Assembly Hall on Thursday. Wake Forest dropped its first game of the season on Wednesday night in a 91-82 loss to Richmond in Winston-Salem.
The Hoosiers are ranked 14th in the country, and return the crux of its core from a team that went 20-14 last year and reached the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. It is a pretty big year for head coach Tom Crean, as boosters, fans, and really the entire state of Indiana is awaiting the results they hoped when he was hired from Marquette.
Along with Kansas, Indiana is one of the prohibitive favorites going into the Tournament. Kansas is ranked higher, and also gets D-II host Chaminade to start the tournament, so that increases their odds tremendously to win the tournament. Vanderbilt will also be a team to watch, as St. Johns has struggled early on and likely won't provide much of a challenge to the Commodores.
Sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. is off to a hot start for Indiana, leading the team with 18.7 PPG in 25 minutes per game. The offense is run by senior point guard Yogi Ferrell, who is averaging an impressive 16.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, and 7 APG.
The Hoosiers boast the nation's third most efficient offense according to Ken Pomeroy, including a scorching 65.2 eFG%. This could be a pretty big issue for a Wake Forest defense that has allowed 73, 82, and 91 points on the season, and ranks 145th in defensive efficiency. Hopefully the trend is bucked and the Hoosiers do not hang 100 on the Deacs tonight.
This should be a pretty high scoring game overall, as the Deacs rank 48th in the country in tempo, while the Hoosiers rank 43rd.
Overall when looking at the Four Factors on offense Indiana does two things well and two things poorly. They are among the nations elite in the aforementioned eFG%, and also 11th in the nation at offensive rebound percentage, grabbing approximately 44% of all misses on their end.
They do struggle with turnovers, ranking 325th in the nation with a 24% turnover percentage. They also do not get the free throw line a lot at all, with a FTA/FGA of 23%. That usually indicates a higher reliance on three point shots and mid-range jump shots, which makes the 66% 2-PT, and 43% 3-PT shooting even more impressive than the basic numbers might indicate.
The Hoosiers have started the same five players the past two games:
PG- Yogi Ferrell (Sr.)
SG- James Blackmon Jr. (So.)
SF- Troy Williams (Jr.)
PF- Max Bielfeldt (Sr.)
C- Thomas Bryant (Fr.)
Off the bench senior Nick Seisloft has proved to be a lethal three-point shooter early on, going 9-14 on the season, with no free throw or two-point attempts. Freshman Thomas Bryant dominated the game against Creighton, going for 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 blocks, and showcased why he came to Indiana as one of the most highly recruited players in the country.
One of the concerns that I have is the fact that Wake Forest looks a lot like Creighton just from a statistical profile. Our offense is a little better, but defense is a little worse, and both teams like to push the ball.
A lot of what Wake Forest will put out on the court has to do with whether or not Cornelius Hudson will be reinstated for the game tonight. We have discussed the lineup concerns that has Trent VanHorn getting nearly 75% of the minutes over the past two games, and it is not ideal to have a former walk-on getting that much time against a top 15 team in the country.
We have not heard yet whether or not Hudson or Rondale Watson will be available for the game tonight, but it would be somewhat strange if we took them both across the world and then didn't play them. Time will tell, but my hunch is that they may sit tonight and then play the next two games. That comes from no actual information, just a guess.
If Hudson is available I would expect him to start in place of Greg McClinton, with the rest of the starting lineup remaining the same. If not then I expect the same lineup as Richmond: CMM, Wilbekin, McClinton, Mitoglou, and Thomas
I expect the Deacs to run a lot of man-to-man to try to limit the looks that Indiana gets from outside. This will be much easier done if Hudson is there to guard the three spot rather than VanHorn. On the flip side, I think Indiana will throw some zone at Wake Forest. It is clear early on that the Deacs do not like to shoot threes (321st in the nation in 3PA/FGA at 26%, and shooting 30% on the year from behind the arc), and rely on driving to the basket and offensive rebounds for the majority of its offense.
This is a tough matchup for the Deacs, but should be a pretty entertaining game to watch as a fan and as a neutral observer. The pace will be high, there will be a lot of scoring, and questionable defense (at least on the Wake Forest side of things).
I want to see improved defense, continued effort across the board, and from a coaching standpoint, better substitution patterns that give the team a chance to win the game if it is there for the taking. I am expecting a loss against the Hoosiers, but a game against (presumably) St. Johns tomorrow is certainly winnable, as is a game against either UCLA or UNLV (whoever loses that game and then beats Chaminade).
Overall I think Wake will start out strong and with some inspired play, but the Hoosiers talent, depth, and experience will wear the Deacs down as the game goes on.