Army currently sits at 5-3, losing to Binghamton on Wednesday night, while Wake Forest comes in at 5-4, winners of four straight games after a woeful 0-3 start.
The tip will be at 7 PM assuming nothing changes due to the weather in Winston-Salem, where 3-5 inches of snow is expected. The game will air on the ACC Network or WatchESPN and is available online.
This is surprisingly the first meeting all-time between the Black Knights and the Demon Deacons, which is somewhat odd considering Army has been playing basketball since 1908 and Wake Forest has been playing basketball since 1905.
Army is one of four teams to have never made the NCAA Tournament, joining The Citadel, William & Mary, and St. Francis (NY) in that dubious distinction. The Cadets have played in the NIT 8 times, but not since 1978, and have played just one post-seaason basketball game since then, a 2016 CIT loss to NJIT.
It was retroactively named National Champions in 1923 and 1944, so those are fun banners to have in Christl Arena.
Army is led by 6-1 junior guard Jordan Fox, who is a “do-it-all” player for the Cadets, averaging 16.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 4.3 APG. He is joined in the backcourt by Tommy Funk, a 6-0 sophomore who averages 9.3 PPG and 6.9 assists per game.
Due to the height limit of 80 inches (6-8), Army is usually one of the smaller teams in Division I, but the Cadets do have two players listed at 6-9 in Matt Wilson and John Miller. My guess is that they came in right at 80 inches and perhaps grew once they were on campus.
The height deficit for Army across the board could be an issue both inside and outside, as the Cadets will have to figure out how to stop, or at best, limit 7-1 Doral Moore. Moore was held in check against Charlotte in his last game, but has been a force inside all year for the Deacs.
It will also be interesting to see if Army can contest the Deacs from outside the arc, as Wake is shooting 39.6% on the year from 3 (39th nationally).
Three-point shooting is what Army excels at as well, shooting 41% on the year (21st in the nation), while attempting 24 per game (making 9-10 per game). it made 19 of 46 attempts in the 71-66 loss to Binghamton on Wednesday.
The primary concern aside from three-point shooting for the Deacs is that Army also likes to push the pace, particularly on offense, averaging just 15 seconds in its average possession length. It will press approximately half the game in a full-court man-to-man to try to slow down opponents and force the occasional turnover. The Deacs are familiar with this tactic, having faced it 2-3 times already on the season.
Wake has struggled immensely in transition defense this year, ranking 4th worst in Division I, allowing 116 points in 90 transition possessions. I am sure that Coach Manning has pointed this out to the team ahead of the game tonight to make sure that everybody gets back on defense and does not allow a missed shot to turn into a quick shot the other way.
Also, as Coach Prosser would always say, we don't want turnovers for touchdowns, so limit the mistakes and get back on D.
KenPom has Wake Forest has an 11 point favorite coming into the game, and projects the Deacs to win 82-71.
While Wake Forest has struggled in defending the three-ball a bit this season (allowing 38% from 3’s), the deficiencies have mostly been off of ball screens and pick-and-roll, which Army does not utilize a lot. Most of the threes come from drives and kicks to spot-up shooters, or after passes around the perimeter in the flow of the offense.
I would expect Wake to have a fair amount of success in limiting the Cadets tonight on the offensive end and do believe another double-digit victory is upcoming.
I’ll take the Deacs 76-59 in a lower scoring affair than most are projecting. The defense has been much better the past two games for Wake and it is looking to hold its fourth straight team under 40% shooting. I believe the early season defensive woes have somewhat been straightened out and the Deacs know it is a sore spot, which has prompted some additional focus on that end of the floor.
I think Bryant Crawford will have a great night, taking advantage of the height advantage that he will enjoy for much of the game. I’ll predict him to get 20 points, and also Olivier Sarr to get his first double-digit game in his collegiate career in a victory for the Deacs to keep up the momentum headed into the 10 day break for finals.