The Wake Forest Demon Deacons will conclude their difficult non-conference schedule when they travel to Baton Rouge to take on the LSU Tigers. The Tigers enter the game with record of 7-4, but have won each of their last 3 contests by 21 or more points. They are ranked just 81st in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, but have climbed nearly 20 spots in the past two weeks. They are led by Ben Simmons, who is widely considered to be the number one prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft, and he is a matchup nightmare.
Ben Simmons is 6'10" and 240 pounds. He also plays point guard. The touch on the pass below is truly sensational, and is one of the reasons that Simmons is drawing favorable comparisons to LeBron James. LSU does do a nice job of spacing the floor, and all it took in the play below is a slight over play by #5 of Marquette for LSU to get this backdoor opportunity. Their spread attack also allows Simmons to drive and then kick to open shooters on the perimeter. Their biggest threat from the outside is Keith Hornsby (#4). He has only played in the team's last 4 games, but he is hitting 42% of his three-point attempts.
This is just terrifying. Simmons grabs 28% of available defensive rebounds when he's on the court, and some of those rebounds lead to one-man fast or secondary breaks. Grabbing offensive rebounds is an important part of Wake Forest's offensive game plan, and tonight it's also going to be an important aspect of Wake's defensive scheme. Grabbing offensive rebounds will prevent Simmons from being able to be a one-man wrecking crew, but Wake also has to get back faster after made buckets. Too many times this season Wake has failed to get back on defense after a made bucket, and it has led to a very easy two points on the other end. With someone as talented as Simmons, Wake cannot afford to fall asleep.
How does Wake Forest defend him? I really don't have much of an idea, and I think that's a concept that many college coaches around the nation are struggling with. Next year, it's a problem that a lot of NBA coaches are going to have. Personally, I would run some zone at LSU. Houston was effective doing it, but Wake has almost exclusively played man-to-man defense under Danny Manning.
While ESPN, and myself up until this point, have made the LSU Tigers seem like the Fighting Simmons, they do have other talented players. Part of the reason LSU has played so well over the past three games is that Craig Victor has become eligible, after transferring from Arizona midway through his freshman season. He has size and is effective around the basket. He is a very poor free throw shooter, however, so he will be a prime candidate to foul if it's close late in the game.
On the perimeter, Wake Forest will also have to be concerned with Antonio Blakeney and Tim Quarterman. Blakeney is a freshman guard, who was a consensus 5-star recruit coming out of high school. His shooting percentage isn't very strong, but he takes a lot of shots, so Wake needs to be aware of that on help side defense. Quarterman has great size at 6'6" and shoots 37% from deep. LSU's length could be problematic for the Deacons, as it has led to LSU forcing turnovers on 20% of possessions. Wake Forest has struggled protecting the ball this year, and turnovers could lead to a few Ben Simmons dunks.
Wake Forest should have several advantages in this game, and how well they perform in these categories will probably determine if t hey win the game. The Deacs must get to the foul line. They have the 6th best free throw rate in the country, and are actually making 70% of their free throws on the season. They also have to continue crashing the offensive glass, and they should have an advantage there. Finally, the Deacs have to get Devin Thomas more touches. A player of his caliber cannot have just 3 field goal attempts in a game. Yes, he shot 10 free throws, but Wake needed to feed him the ball more. Wake shot 26 threes against Xavier, and while some of those were quick shots in the final minute of action, that number should be lower moving forward. Wake needs to get the ball inside, and play through Devin Thomas.
You can catch all of the action tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.