Wake Forest (10-6, 1-3) has another chance tonight to provide Danny Manning with a signature win in his third year at the helm. The Deacs welcome the No. 11 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels (14-3, 2-1) to Winston-Salem for an inner-state tilt. The game will air on ESPN2 at 8 PM live from the LJVM.
The Heels, fresh off a 107-56 thrashing of N.C. State, are looking to get to 3-1 in the ACC ahead of a showdown Saturday when they host the 4-0 Florida State Seminoles. This is a critical game for Wake Forest to notch a win in their belt and show that they can win close games down the stretch against good teams.
While I feel slightly optimistic about this game, looking at individual matchups and team strengths are not helping those warm, fuzzy feelings. North Carolina is the best offensive rebounding team in the nation, while Wake is ranked 123rd on the defensive boards. They are also the 40th best defensive rebounding team in the nation, and Wake sits at 107 on the offensive boards.
KenPom has UNC (No. 5) defeating Wake (No. 43) 85-79, and gives the Deacs a 29% chance to win it. He is listing it as a 75 possession game, which would tie for the third quickest game this season for Wake.
UNC still likes to push the ball under Roy Williams, ranking 20th in tempo, while Wake has slowed down from the past two seasons, ranking 101st this year (down from 41st and 25th).
The Tar Heels rank 10th in the nation in offensive efficiency at 1.185 points per possession, and surprisingly they are 7th in defensive efficiency, allowing a mere .914 points per possession.
In a small sample size, the Heels are by far the best defensive team in the ACC so far in conference play at .896 PPP, while Louisville ranks second .973 PPP. That is clearly aided by limiting the Wolfpack to 56 points, but it shows what UNC can do on the defensive side of the ball with their length and size.
Tonight is an absolutely crucial game for John Collins to stay out of foul trouble early. It has been noted on here that Wake is struggling with depth at the 4-5 position, and UNC absolutely does not. They will start with Meeks and Hicks inside, and if they aren’t getting the job done, they will bring in Tony Bradley, a true freshman who is the nation’s best individual offensive rebounder (grabs 22% of all offensive rebounds when he is on the floor).
If Collins gets into foul trouble, Wake will have to counter with Doral Moore or Sam Japhet-Mathias, neither of whom has shown the ability to provide offensively in their time on the court this season.
Another critical matchup will be at the point guard position between Bryant Crawford and Joel Berry. Both of these guys are very good at what they do, but Crawford has struggled with his shot in ACC play so far. The Deacs will need him to step up his defensive intensity, as well as become more efficient on the offensive end if they want to be in it in the final minutes.
PG - Joel Berry
SG- Kenny WIlliams
SF - Justin Jackson
PF- Isaiah Hicks
C - Kennedy Meeks
PG - Bryant Crawford
SG - Keyshawn Woods
SF - Austin Arians
PF - Dinos Mitoglou
C - John Collins
While the matchups don’t look all that appealing, there is just something about tonight that I feel good about. Wake Forest has shown that they can play with just about anybody, anywhere, and has led every team they have played in the final ten minutes except for Villanova.
I don’t expect tonight to be any different, but they have to figure out a way to get over the hump and play a solid final ten minutes. Whatever goes on with the team from a mental or physical standpoint at the ten minute mark has to change. Whether that is substitution based, poor offense, lackadaisical defense, or whatever else is going on—-the Deacs simply have to double down and focus on playing efficient basketball.
I am going out on a limb and predicting tonight is the night that they get over the hump. Dinos and Arians will provide a big spark from the perimeter, while Collins does enough inside to mitigate the severe advantage that the Tar Heels have down there.
Wake gets out to a decent first half lead on hot shooting, and manages to hold on this time for a desperately needed 87-80 victory over their in-state rival. Is it a bit of a homer or wishful pick? Of course, but hell, we need the win and I think we get it.