The Demon Deacons are back in action tonight at the LJVM as they welcome in the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers of the Big South Conference. The Chanticleers come into the game with a 6-4 record (No. 162 in KenPom). Three of those wins have come against non-Division One teams (Grace Bible, Piedmont International, and NC Wesleyan).
Coached by former Clemson, and Auburn head coach Cliff Ellis, Coastal relies on a methodical tempo that stresses getting the ball inside for high percentage looks.
Wake Forest heads into tonight's game having won its past four games, including three in a row over Power 5 conference teams. Last time out the Deacs used a strong second half to get a 10 point victory over UNC-Greensboro. Coastal got a nice road victory over defending So-Con champs Wofford, and has won three games in a row.
The victory proved to be costly moving forward though, as Ellis' squad lost senior forward Michel Enanga to a knee surgery, and junior guard Colton Ray-St Cyr to a wrist injury. Ray-St Cyr is probably the bigger loss of the two, as the guard was averaging 8.1 PPG, and 5.3 assists per game, while also boasting a top 200 steal rate in the country.
Sophomore guard Jaylen Shaw (10.6 points per game), gets his starting spot back from Ray-St Cyr after the injury, and the Chanticleers still have its three best players in Elijah Wilson (14.5 PPG), Shivaughn Wiggins (12.6 PPG), and forward Badou Diagne (12.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG).
Wilson is shooting 43% from behind the three-point line this year, but is the only player on the Coastal roster shooting over 33%.
The lack of depth for the Chanticleers, who are going to have to rely primarily on a seven man rotation with spot minutes for freshman Kevin Holmes Jr. could be extremely problematic as the game goes along. Wake Forest is the 5th best team in the nation at getting to the free throw line, while Coastal is towards the bottom at putting opposing offenses there. I am guessing it will be another game where Wake Forest takes over 30 free throws.
I am interested to see if the Deacs continue to work a bit on its man to man full court pressure. Forcing turnovers has been a weakness so far for the defense this year, and that increased full court pressure not only should help produce more of them, but also reduce the time needed to play defense in the half court set.
The Chanticleers do a really good job of defending the interior, so it will be a good challenge for Thomas, Collins, and Moore to try to get some easy baskets from the post. From what I can tell, Coastal plays a mix of man and zone, as Ellis is known partly for his zone press (particularly the 1-2-1-1 nature). Wake has done a pretty good job of getting through a press like that the past couple of years, and with Codi back it will be another good test.
Despite the depleted roster of Coastal Carolina I still expect the game to be tighter than Tuesday night. Coastal is a much better team that UNC-G is, and nearly defeated Auburn earlier this season. In fact, Coastal Carolina is 5-8 in its last 13 games against Power 5 conference teams.
This is a great final tune-up for Wake before it hits a ridiculous four game stretch of: Xavier, @LSU, @Louisville, and Duke. Three of those four teams are top ten in KenPom. If the Deacs can stay focused and increase the intensity from Tuesday night then 8-2 is firmly within reach, as well as a matchup with Xavier next Tuesday, in what could be one of the bigger games Wake has played in the past five years.
I am taking the Deacs 83-70. I believe that Coach Manning will have the full attention of the team and the response will be better than what we saw earlier in the week. Look for Devin Thomas to continue his excellent play, and I also think Codi Miller-McIntyre will get his legs back under him and impress a lot of people as well.