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Wake Forest vs. LSU: Preview

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The Deacs are looking to close out their non-conference schedule on a high note.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at NC-Greensboro Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Louisiana State Tigers are coming to Winston-Salem Thursday night to take on the Deacs in a rematch of the 2015 Ben Simmons Classic. Last year Wake walked away with the W after great performances by Devin Thomas, Bryant Crawford, and Codi Miller-McIntire shutting down the eventual #1 overall pick. This year’s LSU team looks entirely different, and the game is set to be their first true road test of the season. Let’s have a look at what to expect later tonight.

First and foremost, there’s no 6’10, 5* bluechip prospect on the Tigers this year, which certainly is a plus no matter how you slice it. LSU (8-2) might be coming into the game with a better record than they had at this point last year (7-4), but a lot of that is due to a non-conference schedule that is littered with cupcakes apart from VCU and Wichita State. The former led for the final 33 minutes of the contest and was up by as many as 19 with seven minutes to go; the latter came to the Bahamas and made a strong case to disband the LSU basketball program after leading 46-19 at the half.

The other 8 programs have an average Kenpom among them of 180.4 and every game was at home. It is worth noting, however, that a 19 point win over Houston in November could end up being helpful in March if they are in fact on the bubble and the Cougars continue to exceed expectations.

LSU’s offense rolls through former 5* recruit Antonio Blakeney, who is averaging nearly 16 PPG on 46% shooting. The 6’4 Guard’s usage rate has skyrocketed since the departure of Simmons, shooting 13.4 times per game and 4.6 3PA. Stopping him will be priority #1 for Danny Manning’s defensive gameplan, but he certainly isn’t the only threat on offense for the Tigers.

Big men Craig Victor II and Duop Reath are both coming off strong performances against Charleston and could be extremely effective if John Collins is forced to the bench with foul trouble. Both Reath and Victor II shoot 72% from the line, yet have fairly high TO rates for post players. It will be interesting to see if the defensive strategy is to double the post on occasion to force turnovers and risk giving up open looks considering LSU is one of the poorer 3 Point shooting teams in the country at 33%.

Finally, the Tigers’ length and athleticism will likely cause the Deacs some problems, especially on the offensive glass if Mitoglou and Collins can’t stay on the floor. At 39.5 RPG, LSU is tied for 58th in the nation in this category and they have out-rebounded their opponents in 8 of the 10 games. For a team that doesn’t shoot particularly well, the last thing you want is for their bigs to get easy 2nd looks and put JC in even more danger to commit fouls.

As for the Deacs, there’s nowhere to go but up after shooting 20% from 3 and 36% from the field against Xavier last week. Fortunately, it looks like Sam Japhet-Mathias might end up contributing more this season than we initially thought after doing an excellent job filling in for Collins and Moore last Saturday. Do I think SJM will be playing 8-10 minutes every game from now on? Probably not. But it’s nice to know that there is some sort of safety net in the big man depth chart, especially against a LSU team that has two athletic and active post players.

Expect Crawford to come out firing, TOs to be limited (LSU is one of the worst teams in the nation at forcing them), and John Collins to bounce back into the monster he’s been all season long. Good shooting teams rarely have back-to-back busts, and the Tigers’ heavy focus on preventing Collins from taking over should lead to open looks for Arians, Key, and the crew. Vegas likes the Deacs by 11, Kenpom by 9. I look at the talent gap and the home court advantage and see a 84-77 win for Wake and a 9-3 record heading into ACC play. In other words, after tonight the Deacs should be exactly where everyone expected them to be. Time to take care of business and get ready to make some noise when the results really count. Go Deacs!