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Preview: Wake Forest at Northwestern

Wake Forest travels to Chicago to take on Northwestern the ACC-Big Ten Challenge

NCAA Basketball: Legends Classic-Notre Dame vs Northwestern Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off the Thanksgiving Holiday and what was presumably a fun two-a-day practice on Friday, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons head north to take on Northwestern in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The game will air on ESPNU at 9:00, and will come on after the Minnesota-Florida State game ends.

This is the first scheduled road game of the season for the Deacs, although they already defeated College of Charleston on their home court in a the Gildan Classic.

The Wildcats enter the game with a 4-2 record, falling to Butler by two on the road, and Notre Dame by four on a neutral court. Do not be fooled by the name “Northwestern” and think this is an easy game for Wake Forest. Chris Collins is in his fourth year at the helm, and while they are still looking for their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance, this is a very talented team.

Vegas has Northwestern as a 3.5 point favorite, while Ken Pomeroy has the Wildcats as a 5 point favorite. Aside from this being a great barometer for Wake Forest, who enters the game at 5-1, it should also be an entertaining game for a neutral observer, as both teams thrive on offense. The Deacs sit at 17th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, while the Wildcats rank 39th.

The Wildcats are led by 6-7 sophomore Vic Law, who is one of the more versatile scorers in America. Not only is he shooting 56% from 2-pt on the year, but he can also step back and hit the three, which he has done to a tune of 63% (17-27), good enough for 17th in the country.

Junior Bryant McIntosh is also one of the more “under-the-radar” point guards out there. He ranked 14th in the nation last season in assist-rate, while staying on the court for nearly 90% of his team’s minutes. At first glance his 5-24 3-pt shooting is important because our guards can sag off a bit and help elsewhere, but he did shoot 36% the past two seasons, so I’m guessing his poor start this season is more limited sample size than anything else.

In many ways, looking at Northwestern is like looking into a mirror for Wake Forest. Both teams have hit the three-ball consistently, and rely heavily on the offense to compensate for a below average defense as a “Power 5” team. The Wildcats aren’t as bad as the Deacs on defense, ranking 66th in KenPom, while Wake sits at a woeful 146th, but their offense is clearly a step ahead of their defense.

Neither team forces many turnovers, and instead relies more on forcing misses and keeping opponents off the foul line to get the ball back. One notable point on the Wildcats D is their three-point defense, which ranks 211th in the nation at 35.8%, which is something that Wake Forest could exploit.

Wake Forest’s sophomore Keyshawn Woods is 14-21 from three-point land on the season (67%), while Mitchell Wilbekin and Austin Arians are both above 40%, at 42% and 48% respectively.

I expect the Deacs to start the same five that they have all season long:

PG- (So.) Bryant Crawford (13.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 1.3 TPG, 4.84 A:T ratio)

SG- (Jr.) Mitchell Wilbekin (8.8 PPG, 2.2 APG)

SF- (Gr. Sr) Austin Arians (9.3 PPG, 2.5 APG)

PF- (Jr.) Dinos Mitoglou (10 PPG, 6.7 RPG)

C- (So.) John Collins (18.8 PPG. 8.5 RPG)

Northwestern has also started the same five guys all season long:

PG- (Jr.) Bryant McIntosh (12.7 PPG, 5.0 APG, 2.8 TPG)

SG- (Jr.) Scottie Lindsey (15.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.5 APG)

SF- (Sr.) Sanjay Lumpkin (5.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG)

PF- (So.) Vic Law (17.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.5 APG)

C- (So.) Dererk Pardon (7.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.7 BPG)

The good thing about this game, regardless of who wins, is that it should be a close game. Northwestern and Wake Forest are very similar teams, trying to figure out where they stand early in the season. The Deacs have played one elite team in Villanova, but have yet to be tested by anybody else on their schedule. This will be a great test to see how they can stand up in close games, as there are bound to be a lot in ACC play.

For my prediction I’m going to guess that Northwestern rides their home-court advantage to a slight win, but a late possession could turn the game to Wake Forest.

Northwestern- 75

Wake- 73