"Two roads diverged in a wood and I
I took the road less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference"
With all due respect to the late, great Robert Frost, Wake Forest would love to testify that no matter the road, no difference has been made at all.
I-40, I-85, I-95, not a single road has made a damn bit of difference when it comes to ACC conference play. The Demon Deacons have lost 49 of its last 51 road games, including an atrocious 0-15 record under head coach Danny Manning.
Wake Forest did have double-digit leads in its past two road games, but inevitably fell to Georgia Tech and N.C. State when the going got tough down the stretch.
Tonight the Deacs will take their impressive(ly awful) streak to one of the hardest places to play in the country--the Petersen Event Center in Pittsburgh. Coached by Jamie Dixon, the Panthers come into tonights game at 17-7 (6-6 in the ACC).
Despite their impressive record at first glance, the Panthers played their usual soft out-of-conference schedule, ranking 327th out of 351 teams. It is unfortunate that they didn't get to finish their game against Gonzaga, in which they were leading at the half before it was called off due to poor court conditions.
As of this point, their best win is on the road against Notre Dame, and a home win against Syracuse to open the ACC. The Orange were without Jim Boeheim, and it was well before their run as of late.
This is a game that Pittsburgh frankly cannot afford to lose. They are on a three game slide, all against top 12 teams in KenPom (UVA, @Miami, @UNC), and face Syracuse, Louisville, and Duke after the Deacs.
A snapshot of Pitt shows that they are very good offensively and mediocre defensively. Not quite the 201st KenPom team defensively that we saw last year, but 136th isn't something to write home about.
They excel at offensive rebounding, grabbing 37.3% of all their misses. This ranks 17th nationally, and could be a pretty big matchup problem for Wake Forest, who grabs only 69% of the defensive rebounds (229th in the country). Couple that with the turnover % matchup, and Pittsburgh will have a lot more possessions than Wake will.
For the Deacs to have any chance at all in this one they will have to shoot the ball well against an average defense, and get to the free throw line at the rate they have been throughout the year. Making those free throws would also be a good thing to do.
The Panthers have three decent three point shooters in Jamel Artis, Cameron Johnson, and Coppin State transfer Sterling Smith, but the bread and butter of the Pitt offense is getting good, close looks at the basket through crisp passing. Their 65.6% assist to made basket ratio ranks 8th best in the country.
Keeping junior Sheldon Jeter off the glass will be a high priority of Devin Thomas. Given the height of Pittsburgh (14th tallest in the nation), I expect Collins and Moore to get some good minutes inside tonight to assist Thomas on the boards.
Pittsburgh does a lot of things well, but nothing really great or badly, so that doesn't leave a glaring area of weakness for the Deacs to attack, especially on the offensive side of things. I think getting the ball inside to Thomas, Collins, and Moore early to establish a true inside-out offense would be the best bet. There have also been signs of life in the transition game with outlets from Thomas to freshman guard Bryant Crawford.
I see this game as being a tough one to win, but as Alexander Pope captured in his poem An Essay of Man...
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed;
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.