I'm going to switch up the preview format a bit today. Instead of breaking down all of the numbers, I'll focus on areas where each team should capitalize. After that, I'll make a prediction that is almost sure to be wrong.
Why Wake Forest Will Win
Notre Dame is an excellent offensive team, but that's only because of shooting and not turning the ball over. The Irish are 252nd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, while Wake Forest is 7th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. If the shots aren't falling for Notre Dame, that's a huge advantage for the Deacs. Wake Forest is also a better offensive rebounding team than Notre Dame is at defensive rebounding. Notre Dame's 4-out sets will be advantageous on the offensive end, but Devin Thomas and Dinos Mitoglou, among other, could punish the Irish on the glass.
These categories are definitely related, and also stem from rebounding. Wake Forest is 1st in the ACC in tempo, and averages 67.8 possessions per game. Notre Dame is 10th and averages 61.7 possessions per game. Teams who are very slow (like Virginia) can bring down tempo, but I believe Wake can force Notre Dame to play fast. Wake should win the rebounding battle, and this will allow them to outlet the ball to Codi Miller-McIntyre and get in transition. Wake will also look to attack off Notre Dame's made baskets. This could be to Wake's advantage later on in the contest as Wake consistently plays 9-10 guys and is 72nd nationally in bench minutes. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is 339th in bench minutes and only plays about 7 guys.
Devin Thomas has not been outstanding over the past several games, but he owned Notre Dame last season. In two contests against the Irish, he averaged 20 points and 8 rebounds. Notre Dame only plays one big man at a time, which means Devin Thomas can face the basket and attack Zach Auguste off the dribble. It also means his patented spin move will not be met with weakside help from another big. I expect DT to have a pretty big game tonight.
Why Notre Dame Will Win
Shooting is the most fundamental and important part of basketball, and Notre Dame is damn good at it. They have the best effective field goal percentage in the country. They shoot 40% from beyond the arc, and make nearly 59% of twos.
As good as Dinos has been offensively, he has been a liability on defense, especially when forced to guard players on the perimeter. This was a problem against Miami's 4-out offense, and I anticipate it being an even bigger problem against the Irish.
As an aside, here's everything you need to know about Notre Dame's offense. Seriously, just read this article about Notre Dame's offense. It's phenomenal.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Look how <a href="https://twitter.com/NDmbb">@NDMbb</a> clears out weak side help vs. sideline PnR for a corner 3. <a href="https://twitter.com/ThatGrant22">@ThatGrant22</a> draw 3 defenders' attention <a href="http://t.co/OjV1d30n1K">pic.twitter.com/OjV1d30n1K</a></p>— JoeSchu (@JoeSchuOFD) <a href="https://twitter.com/JoeSchuOFD/status/567741314784325634">February 17, 2015</a></blockquote>
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The Irish Don't Foul
This is actually a matchup that could swing the game. The Irish are second nationally in defensive free throw rate, but Wake Forest is 32nd nationally in offensive free throw rate. The problem for Wake Forest is that even when they have gotten to the line, they haven't converted free throws (317th in FT%). Wake also has the 215th best effective field goal% in the country, and has scored 23% of its points off free throws. If Wake can get Zach Auguste in foul trouble, then they gain an advantage, but I think the Deacs will shoot a number of threes and the Irish will stay out of foul trouble.
I'll take Notre Dame 80-65. I think Notre Dame's spacing will really give Wake Forest problems in this one.
How do you all see this one playing out?