No. 21 Tennessee (8-2) will head to Winston-Salem to take on a Wake Forest (7-4) team in desperate need of a win to close out its non-conference schedule. It will be no easy task for the Demon Deacons though, as the Volunteers have lost just twice this year, to Villanova and North Carolina, both (currently) top five teams in the nation.
The game will tipoff at 12:30 at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and will air on ESPN2.
While the Volunteers struggled to get a win against the Furman Paladins on Wednesday night, pulling out 66-61 victory in Knoxville, it has already picked up wins against Purdue, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, and a litany of other smaller schools.
The Deacs struggled out of the gate en route to an 0-3 start against Georgia Southern, Liberty, and Drake, but have since won six games in a row and is now seeking its first seven game winning streak since 2009-10 (also seven games).
Rick Barnes has done a fantastic job in Knoxville this season as the Tennessee head coach, trying to bounce back from a 16-16 season last year to grab an NCAA Tournament berth in his third year.
The Vols have won so far through hard-nosed defense and an above average offense, ranking 18th in defensive efficiency and 48th in offensive efficiency.
On paper it appears to be a mismatch for Wake Forest as Tennessee shoots the three ball well (39% on the year), rebounds extremely well on the offensive side of things (13th in the nation), and shares the ball extremely well (2nd best assist/field goals made rate in the nation at 69%).
On the flip side, Wake Forest has had an extremely efficient offense this year, ranking 18th nationally, including shooting 39% from behind the three-part line and 54% from twos, good enough for 37th nationally in effective field goal percentage.
While a lot of folks may think that since it’s a “big name school” the interior threat will be bigger and better, that is not necessarily the truth. Junior big-man 6-11 Kyle Alexander has excelled when he is on the court on the offensive end, particularly grabbing rebounds, but has struggled to stay on the court, playing just 19 minutes against UNC and 11 minutes against Furman.
The key will be for Doral Moore to block out and grab defensive rebounds to end possessions that Tennessee misses shots. I still believe Moore has the upper hand inside and we will need to exploit that frequently.
Given how efficient the Vols are from behind the three-point line there is obvious concern that the Deacs will fail to limit that, as it has not fared well this year at three-point “defense”, allowing opponents to shoot nearly 40% from behind the arc on the year, including allowing 50% to Coastal Carolina in a win earlier this week.
James Daniel, a Howard grad transfer who led the nation in scoring last year, has demonstrated his passing ability this season, putting up the nation’s 34th best assist rate to pair wit 41% shooting from behind the arc.
When you add in Jordan Bowden at 21-37 (57%) and Admiral Schofield 16-39 (41%) on the year from three-point, I have serious concerns about how Wake will defend and limit the Volunteers offense.
I hate being negative, but I also like to be realistic. Wake hasn’t played a team like the Vols this year (Houston is the closest according to KenPom), and I am worried that the tenacity of the defense will cause turnover issues and disrupt the offense.
Ken Pomeroy has Tennessee winning this one 74-73, and I tend to agree that the Vols will walk away with a win in this one.
To win this game the Deacs will need a big game from Moore and also the guards to play the best defensive game they have played all year. That is a tough ask in my opinion, and I believe the Vols will win by a couple of possessions, but hopefully I am incorrect in this assessment.