Wake Forest hosts the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils this evening. The bad news is that Wake is 1-9 in its last 10 games against Duke (going back to the 2010 season). The good news is that Wake tends to play Duke relatively close at the Joel: Wake's home losses to Duke in the past five seasons have all been by 8 or fewer points, and Jeff Bzdelik's last Wake team was even able to pull off an upset 10-point win two years ago. And, those Duke teams were all ranked 5th or better, while Duke makes the short drive on I-40 today sitting at #14 in the AP poll.
Duke has only lost two games (to Kentucky, and to a good Utah squad in OT), but it has played the 156th toughest schedule in college basketball to this point. It is 4-2 against top 100 teams. Wake has a 9-4 record after playing the 25th toughest schedule so far, and is 4-4 against top 100 teams. Coincidentally, the two teams have the same "signature" win, each having defeated Indiana.
Duke has been excellent on the offensive side of the ball this season. Its 88.4 ppg is good for 4th nationally, and it is 3rd in adjusted offensive efficiency with a whopping 119.6 points scored per 100 possessions. To make matters worse, you can't stop one guy to bring the machine to a halt: 6 players are averaging at least 10 ppg (although senior forward Amile Jefferson, who averages a double-double, is still out with a foot injury).
The team is led by sophomore guard Grayson "Never Seen Him In The Same Room As Ted Cruz" Allen, who averages over 20 ppg (you can learn more about him here). Heralded five-star freshman Brandon Ingram, who was ranked as high as 3rd in his class, is averaging 16.4 ppg and has scored at least 23 points in 5 of his last 7 games. Junior guard Matt Jones (shooting 45% from deep), Luke Kennard, and Derryck Thornton are also averaging double digits. It will be interesting to see what defensive scheme Coach Manning will try to implement to knock this offense out of its groove.
When Wake has the ball, Jefferson's absence leaves Duke somewhat vulnerable inside, which could present a great opportunity for Devin Thomas, John Collins, and even Doral Moore to make an outsize impact. Hopefully the team has practiced getting the ball inside against a zone defense, which has been a big obstacle so far this season. And of course, Wake can't afford to be careless with the ball. Wake has given up at least 15 turnovers in 5 of its last 7 games. Against an offense like Duke, it's nearly impossible to overcome that kind of misplaced generosity.
Wake's last two losses have been heartbreakers against ranked opponents. In the Xavier game, Wake trailed by 1 with just over 3 minutes to play after giving up a 15 point halftime lead. At Louisville, the score was tied with 2:32 to play.
Beating Duke would be a huge step for the team after coming so close in those two games, and it would do a great bit of work in shoring up Wake's fledgling case for a return to the NCAA tournament. Duke is a very good basketball team, but it isn't the juggernaut it was last year. Wake is a 7-8 point underdog, but this game represents a great chance for the team to pull off an important upset. Though, to be honest, Duke could be ranked 351st in the country and I would be rooting just as hard in this one. It would also be nice to start getting some wins in this series and reinsert some significance into Tobacco Road's oldest basketball rivalry.
It's a bit of a shame that we catch Duke at home during the winter break when most students are away. If you can make it to the game, be extra loud. Otherwise, it will be broadcast nationally at 7pm on ESPNU.