After a close call at UNC Greensboro last Friday, the Wake Forest basketball team had the week off to take exams and to think about how they almost let one slip away. They’ll be back in action Saturday night in Cincinnati, as they take on #17 Xavier in a difficult true road game (8:00 FS1). Xavier, like Wake, is 8-2 on the season with road losses at Baylor and Colorado four days apart in the beginning of December. Their best wins to date are against Clemson in an early season tournament and vs Utah last weekend in Cincy.
Looking at their play so far this season using the advanced stats at KenPom.com, a few things jump off the page. On the plus side for the Musketeers, they are an extremely good rebounding team on both ends of the floor and force a lot of turnovers. On the flip side, they are 242nd in the nation in 3 point percentage and play one of the tightest rotations in college basketball with bench minutes ranking 323rd out of 351 teams in D1 hoops. The takeaways from these facts for Wake are going to seem redundant from earlier games, but bear repeating. John Collins must play around 30 minutes for the Deacs to have a decent chance to win this one. Without his interior presence, it seems that Wake will get bullied on the glass and also have a tough time defensively stopping the slashing Xavier guards at the rim. Furthermore, Wake’s guards, namely Bryant Crawford, Mitch Wilbekin and Keyshawn Woods, must take care of the ball on offense and minimize driving lanes on the defensive side.
From a personnel perspective, Xavier is led by a trio of guards that all play over 84% of the total minutes. To give numbers for comparison, Wake’s Crawford is the Deacs’ most utilized player, playing 73% of the minutes. This trio is led by stud junior Trevon Bluiett, who averages 19.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game on 43% shooting (34% from deep). Alongside Bluiett are guards JP Macura and Edmond Sumner who average 15.0 and 14.2 points, respectively. Perhaps the biggest issue that these three present to Wake Forest is that they are all 6’5” or 6’6” whereas Wake’s Crawford and Woods are around 6’3” with the backups being barely 6’0”. Again, keeping them off the glass is going to have to be a team effort for Wake to have a shot.
According to the projections, Xavier will be about a 10 point favorite in this one. Getting one of their heavily utilized players into foul trouble and forcing the Musketeers to use their bench would be very helpful for Wake. Starting quickly with a few deep balls wouldn’t hurt either, as the crowd at the Cintas Center will almost certainly be a big factor if Xavier comes out hitting on all cylinders.
Wake playing a true road game against a nationally ranked team coming off of exams is definitely not an ideal situation, but should tell us plenty about what to expect when the Deacs face this caliber of team about every night in January and February in ACC play. After this week of off-the-field Deacon news, it’ll be pleasant to finally discuss an actual Wake sporting event.