In recent weeks, the national media has jumped onto the Demon Deacon bandwagon. Wake followed up an impressive 9-3 non-conference record with going toe-to-toe with Louisville on the road. Can they justify the building hype?
Wake has an incredible opportunity at their hands to so. Tonight, they can prove their legitimacy in the ACC and bolster the national resume: DOOK. The Blue Devils come to the Joel as talented as ever. However, they have some creaks due to inexperience and injuries. To further dissect that "other private school that plays basketball in North Carolina" we spoke to the great Tobacco Road mind Ben Swain.
Currently ranked No. 2 in the nation in offensive efficiency, Duke has long athletes who can score, shoot and pass. What is the best strategy for a team like Wake to limit the Blue Devils, who have 5 players averaging 10+ points a game?
If I had to come up with a game plan to defend Duke, I’d absolutely key on putting them in spots where bad decision making can take over. That can happen with pressure, or it can happen with having a really good game on the offensive end, which forces Duke to press a bit on offense to try to keep pace with the scoring. With the possible exception of Matt Jones, pretty much everyone in Duke’s rotation has the tendency to play out of control at times by taking bad shots, trying to do too much with the ball, or as we saw with Grayson Allen in Duke’s two losses, just simply trying to force something that’s not there. I think Wake can turn Duke over and keep them off of the offensive glass, and those two things are keys to being successful against a good, but not great Duke team.
After playing sparingly for much of last season, Grayson Allen came onto the scene in the NCAA Tournament. Now the sophomore is a legitimate All-America candidate. What has changed in the past 12 months?
He just wasn’t ready last year. I don’t think he had a lot of confidence as a freshman, and his rise from last year to this year also follows his trajectory as a recruit where he went from being a fringe guy to being offered a Duke scholarship in the span of a year. I think just he’s getting stronger and smarter, and he’s certainly not shy on the offensive end. I also think he was a poor fit on last year’s team because he’s such an Alpha on the basketball court. What made Duke so successful last year was selflessness, and Allen is in attack mode every time he touches the ball. That worked great for those key possessions in the championship game when everyone else was coasting a bit, but there just wasn’t room for Allen last year. This year, this is a great fit for him as a player. He’s really good. I’m surprised at how good he’s been.
The injury to rangy senior Amile Jefferson has hurt Duke's rebounding and interior defense. How severe has his absence been to the Blue Devils and who has stepped into his role?
It’s been a killer because there’s no one to really step into that role on either end of the court. Chase Jeter is like Allen last year in the sense that he’s just not ready, but he’s going to log minutes because there’s really no one else to fill in. Ingram has shifted to the four, and has been excellent, but hasn’t really been tested yet defensively. Luke Kennard has been asked to chip in more scoring, but he’s a completely different player that forces Duke to go small at times when he’s in. The biggest danger coming from Jefferson’s injury is that Duke is another injury away from being a middle of the pack ACC team. They’re going to play 7 players and not really ever go beyond that until Jefferson is back.
Duke certainly has the superior talent and athleticism, while many would argue Wake has more experience. Where can Wake expose Duke and come away with this game?
I’m not sure experience is really a factor because, being honest, it hasn’t been all that great of an experience for those upperclassmen at Wake so far. I actually think the newness of being good is what can be a huge advantage for Wake. If they hit shots and rebound, and especially if they get Duke in foul trouble, I can see Wake using the excitement of the home crowd to their advantage and play loose while Duke would likely tighten up. If it’s close at all, you’d have to think the advantage is with Wake. If Duke gets hot and goes on an extended run, that’s where experience can hurt Wake because it’s like "here we go again". Wake is a hot team right now with a lot of confidence, and Duke hasn’t hit their stride yet. I think Wake can just be their normal selves and win the game, I don’t think it’s a matter of having to expose anything or having to lean on something like experience.
PREDICTION TIME: The Demon Deacons are playing inspired basketball, but the Blue Devils come to the Joel 8.5 point favorites. How do you see this game playing out? Who ya got and final score?
With the spread at 8.5, I’d hedge my bet by giving Wake 8.5 and putting money on the Deacs to win straight up. I certainly don’t see Duke winning a close game so I either think Duke by 15 or Wake rolls the quad. Those are the only two possible outcomes I see.
Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us, Ben.