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Wake Forest vs. Clemson Preview

A preview of Wake Forest’s pivotal rematch against Clemson.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons should be looking to complete a sweep of the series against the Clemson Tigers on Tuesday evening, but unfortunately the Deacs suffered a horrific collapse against the Tigers on December 31st. Wake Forest was up 7 points and shooting the front end of a one-and-one with just 3:17 remaining, but failed to score for the rest of the game and ultimately lost 73-68. If NCAA Tournament hopes weren’t enough motivation for this rematch, then memories of that collapse can only help fuel the fire.

The Demon Deacons are objectively a better team than Clemson. Wake comes in ranked 32nd in Ken Pom, while Clemson comes in at 39th. The Deacs have an elite offense that is 10th nationally in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency, but the defense is just 123rd in terms of adjusted efficiency, though that ranking has improved as of late. Clemson, on the other hand, is more balanced. The Tigers have an offense ranked 31st (the best of Brad Bownell’s tenure), while the defense is 80th (the worst of Brownell’s tenure). Clemson, however, has the home court advantage and will be a slight favorite as a result.

The point guard matchup will be Bryant Crawford against Shelton Mitchell, who at one point was committed to Wake Forest, and he even signed with the Demon Deacons, but was released from his letter of intent following the departure of Jeff Bzdelik. Mitchell is a crafty lefty, but isn’t a terrific shooter, and is also turnover prone. If Crawford can keep up his high level of play, then Wake should have an advantage at point.

The shooting guard matchup will feature a battle between two high levels shooters. Clemson’s Avry Holmes has an offensive rating of 122.7 while shooting 43% from beyond the arc on 125 attempts. Wake fans know that Keyshawn Woods is very efficient. The transfer from Charlotte has an offensive rating of 121.4 and is shooting a whopping 48.3%. Defense will be critical in this matchup, as neither can afford to fall asleep and allow his man get loose for a clean look. Hand down, man down.

The battle of small forwards will be a stark contrast in styles. Austin Arians is predominantly known for his outside shooting ability, and the grad transfer is making more than 40% of his outside shots. He’s also making 63% of his shots from inside the arc, but he’s admittedly more selective with those. That said, he has a nice mid range game, and is starting to occasionally show off some finesse shots around the basket. Jaron Blossomgame, on the other hand, is clearly the superior athlete at 6’7”, 220 pounds. He is shooting just 26% from beyond the arc, but can block shots and also score around the basket. He will be a very difficult cover for Arians and this matchup, along with the one I’m about to discuss, is why I’d like to see Wake play a decent amount of zone in this one.

Power forward features two stretch 4’s, though Clemson’s Donte Grantham will have the athleticism advantage. He shoots less than 33% from deep, but has attempted 101 on the season, so it may be in Wake’s best interest to dare him to shoot. I believe that Dinos can take advantage of him down low, as he’ll have to size advantage to shoot over top of him.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

John Collins will have an advantage in the center matchup, but Clemson does have size down low. Clemson will rotate between Sidy Djitte and Elijah Thomas. Collins really got going in the last game when Thomas went out of the game with foul trouble, so I anticipate that Wake will once again try to play through Mr. Collins. Because Clemson’s centers are very traditional low post players, this should also be a good matchup for Doral Moore.

Clemson does not utilize its bench, and is 347th nationally in bench minutes, so Wake getting Clemson in foul trouble could be a major factor in this one. The Deacons should do a very good job of crashing the offensive glass. Clemson is one of the worst teams in the country at finishing defensive possessions with a rebound, so the Deacs need to convert on put backs if the initial shots don’t drop.

I expect Wake Forest to come out with excellent energy in this one and come out seeking revenge. I realize that the metrics and the odds makers favor the Tigers in this one, but I just have a feeling that Wake Forest is going to come home with a .500 record in conference play and another ACC road win.

What do you think of Tuesday’s matchup?