Duke was left for dead on Saturday, January 28th. The Blue Devils were coming off an 84-82 home loss to North Carolina State and were just 3-4 in ACC play. This is the same team that was preseason number one, and featured a host of McDonald’s All-Americans and potential lottery picks. Still, they found themselves down by 10 points with 4 minutes remaining to Wake Forest. Then Luke Kennard happened. I refuse to talk about the closing minutes of that game in detail, so all I’ll say is that Duke pulled out a patented Duke comeback victory. They haven’t lost since. The Blue Devils have since beaten Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Virginia, among others. Meanwhile, Wake Forest is coming off its worst performance of the year. What a time for a rematch in Cameron Indoor Stadium!
The Blue Devils are led in scoring by the aforementioned Luke Kennard, who is averaging 19.8 points per game with an eFG% of 61.5%. He of course hit a shot against Wake that could easily come back to haunt the Demon Deacons on Selection Sunday. Game of inches. Sigh. Behind Kennard is freshman sensation Jayson Tatum, who is getting more efficient by the game. He still occasionally takes too many mid range shots, but is now taking more threes and shots closer to the basket, and is really showing why he was arguably the best player in the 2016 recruiting class. He stands at 6’8”, can rebound, really defend, and will be a matchup nightmare for Wake. They have a host of other talented players including Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Frank Jackson, Harry Giles, and others, but Kennard and Tatum will be the most problematic for Wake Forest.
John Collins was dominant for the Demon Deacons in the first meeting, but only played 22 minutes due to foul trouble. I expect that he will once again get his on the offensive end, but he has to stay in better position defensively in order to avoid foul trouble, since Danny Manning is committed to sitting players in the first half once they pick up two fouls. Wake Forest’s big three of Collins, Bryant Crawford, and Keyshawn Woods combined for 61 of Wake Forest’s 83 points against Duke. While Wake nearly won the game, it’s not sustainable to expect those three to produce that great of a percentage of scoring. Collins and Crawford combined for 54 points against Clemson, but no other player scored in double figures. If Wake is going to pull off an upset, then at least four, and probably five, Wake Forest players will need to score in double-figures.
Wake was somewhat unlucky the last time given that Duke made 45% of their threes in the first game, while Wake made just 30%. However, Wake was quite fortunate that Bryant Crawford hit 15 of 15 free throws. Both teams are strong rebounding teams, but Wake absolutely has to win this battle. The Deacons simply cannot afford to give Duke additional opportunities. They are too good of an offensive team to gift extra shots. For the same reason, Wake cannot get careless with the ball. It seemed like there was grease all over the basketball against Clemson and they finished with 18 turnovers. If Wake does that again, then we can just turn the game off and enjoy a beautiful Saturday afternoon, because this one will be over.
Wake Forest hasn’t won at Cameron Indoor since Tim Duncan’s senior year, and will be double-digit underdogs on Saturday afternoon. It definitely seems unlikely now, but if NC State can find a way to beat Duke in Cameron, that has to give Wake some confidence in this one. The action begins at 1 p.m. on the ACC Network. As always, go Deacs!