Liberty (1-0) @ Wake Forest (0-1)
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET (Tuesday, November 13, 2017)
Location: Winston-Salem, NC (Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum; 14,665)
Radio: WakeForestSports (Live Audio Stream of Broadcast)
Live Stats: WakeForestSports.com
Odds: KenPom: 83-70 (88%)
Wake Forest will look to avoid it’s first 0-2 start in basketball since the 1979-80 season when it takes on Liberty tonight at 7 PM at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem.
To be fair to that 1979 squad, this was back when the Big Four Tournament was still played in Greensboro at the beginning of the year and Wake Forest, N.C. State, Duke, and North Carolina would all compete. Consecutive losses to Georgia Southern and Liberty don’t quite bring the same forgiveness that losses to Duke and N.C. State bring.
The Deacs were shocked in it’s season-opener on Friday night, falling 85-83 to Georgia Southern for just the second loss in a home opener in LJVM history (Stetson, 2011). Make no mistake though, this loss to a Georgia Southern team is nowhere near the failure that a loss to 300th ranked Stetson was to kick off the [Name Redacted] era of Wake Forest basketball.
The Eagles are one of the favorites in the Sun Belt, ranked 81st currently in KenPom, and have an outstanding chance to win at least 20 games and make it to the NCAA Tournament.
Tonight the Deacs welcome the Liberty Flames to Winston to try to right the ship and get going in the right direction. Liberty comes in with a record of 1-0 following a resounding 87-42 win over Division III Clarks Summit.
A game that might draw more attention to some folks is the exhibition game between Liberty and VCU last month, where the Flames knocked off the Rams 85-69 behind 11-22 shooting from behind the three-point line.
Liberty is ranked 181st in KenPom and projected to finish second in the Big South Conference behind UNC-Asheville. While the name “Liberty” may not exactly strike fear into the casual fan, it is yet another team on the schedule that sits in the 100-200 KenPom ranking and will push for 20 wins on the season.
Last season Liberty finished 21-14, going 14-4 in the Big South but losing to Radford in the first round of the Tournament. It accepted a bid to the College Basketball Insider Tournament where it won it’s first two games before falling to the UMBC Retrievers (coached by former Wake Forest head coach Dave Odom’s son Ryan) in the quarterfinals.
The Flames are coached by Ritchie McKay, who found success while head coach of New Mexico from 2003-2007, and is known for his slow-tempo basketball. Last year Liberty ranked 342nd nationally in adjusted possessions per game at 62.7. For reference, Wake Forest averaged 70.7 possessions per game last year, ranking 57th nationally.
While the Flames have gotten better in the past couple of years under McKay, the offense continues to be problematic and it relies heavily on defense to keep games lower scoring.
This could be exactly what the Deacs need to get right defensively. The Flames do protect the ball very well, so it will require disciplined defense from Wake to not wear down as the shot clock gets close to zero (which it will several times given the pace preference of McKay).
KenPom gives the Deacs an 88% chance to win the game and projects it to be an 83-70 final with 71 possessions. It is a contrast of styles to be certain, as Wake Forest will look to push the ball early and often to try to get transition buckets and hopefully organized chaos.
There was a lot of chaos on Friday night for the Deacs, but not a lot of it was “organized”. Despite grabbing 20 offensive rebounds, Wake allowed a much smaller Georgia Southern team to grab 15 of it’s own, including the final offensive rebound of the game that led to two fouls shots and ultimately the win for the Eagles.
Last year the Flames were one of the smallest teams in America, ranking 321st in effective height. This is yet another good chance for the big men to step up and somebody try to grab the center minutes by the horn.
The key for the Deacs tonight is to do everything in it’s power to work on getting better defensively and after getting a stop to grab the defensive rebound. A lot of this could be dependent on whether or not Doral Moore can stay out of foul trouble.
At this point I do not know if Olivier Sarr will be available for the game tonight. He missed the season opener on Friday with a left hand injury sustained last week in practice.
Liberty was led in scoring last season by junior Ryan Kemrite, and it returns five out of it’s six top scorers as well. Kemrite had a very good offensive season for the Flames, shooting 42% from behind the three-point line, 66% from two-pointers, and 83% from the free throw line. At 6-4, 200 pounds I am guessing that freshman Chaundee Brown will draw that defensive assignment in what should be a good test.
Speaking of Brown, in dropping 21 points and 9 rebounds on Friday night he became the first Demon Deacon since J.T. Terrell in 2011 to score 20+ points in his collegiate debut (oddly enough, also a loss for the Deacs despite the 26 from JTT).
The Deacs will likely roll out the same lineup that it had on Friday night in: Bryant Crawford, Keyshawn Woods, Chaundee Brown, Terrence Thompson, and Doral Moore. Hopefully Moore and Crawford can avoid picking up early fouls like they did on Friday and go ahead and give the Deacs a big lead in the first half.
While Liberty is a good team and I think that it could be close for a while, I fully expect the Deacs to come out more focused tonight, especially on the defensive side of things. I think the spread is just about right and expect it to be a single-digit game into the second half before Wake Forest puts it away in the final ten minutes.
Everybody has been down on Moore so far, but I think he will have a mini “breakout” night and post his first career double-double as a Demon Deacon. Liberty just doesn’t have anybody who is nearly tall or big enough to defend him. I also believe that Brown is a serious matchup problem at the 3 for the Flames and he will have himself another 20 point night as well.
I’ll take the Deacs 86-73 in this one to get it’s first victory of the year and headed in the right direction before the Paradise Jam in Lynchburg this weekend!