For the tenth time this season the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (14-9, 5-6) will face a top 50 KenPom team. They are currently 0-9 in those games, so tonight is once again a chance to get a win that could propel the team to the first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010.
The opponent this time will be the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-7, 6-5). The Irish started 17-3, 6-1 in conference play, but are losers for four straight (Virginia, @Georgia Tech, Duke, @UNC). They are trying to right their season and ride an easier schedule down the stretch into a good seed for the ACC and NCAA Tournament.
The game will air on ESPNews at 7 P.M (eastern time) from the Joyce Center in South Bend.
Notre Dame is coached by Mike Brey and is a very similar team to Wake Forest this season. They rank 16th in offensive efficiency and 66th in defensive efficiency compared to Wake Forest’s 11th ranked offense and 139th ranked defense.
It is very likely that this is a high-scoring affair, especially with the ability that both team has to score from every spot on the floor.
Wake ranks 38th nationally in 3-Pt- Shooting Percentage, 80th nationally in 2-Pt Shooting Percentage, and 10th nationally in FT Shooting Percentage. Notre Dame goes: 20th from 3-Pt, 109th from 2-Pt, and 2nd in FT shooting.
Then number one threat on Notre Dame is ACC Player of the Year contender Bonzie Colson. Despite being 6-5 he leads the league in rebounds per game. The Collins/Colson matchup will be one of the best in the ACC this year in the interior, and it will be very interesting to see how each coach goes about trying to mitigate the other star player.
In addition to Colson, Notre Dame boasts five players shooting 39% or better from the 3-Pt line. Obviously that is a bit of a problem for Wake Forest, who has played matador defense for much of the year in critical spots of different games.
One area that Wake Forest can attempt to exploit is in rebounding. The Fighting Irish rank 267th in defensive rebounding, and 200th in offensive rebounding. Wake will need to get multiple chances during their offensive possessions to increase their PPP, and also limit the second chances that ND gets as well.
I am unsure of how Coach Manning wants to defend Colson and V.J. Beachem. Collins could guard Colson, who doesn’t draw that many fouls on opponents, in an attempt to keep him off the boards, but he could also float out and guard Beachem a bit, who is a stretch four, and let Dinos Mitoglou take the primary assignment on Colson.
I would probably put strength on strength and see what Collins can do to limit Colson. That is a great matchup to watch, and we should see a high level of play on the interior.
My biggest concern is Wake will defend the 2-3 positions due to the height advantages that Notre Dame possesses. The ND shooting guard Rex Pflueger and SF Steve Vasturia are both 6-6 and love to shoot the deep ball. Putting Childress or Wilbekin on either one of them will make it easy for the Irish to shoot over them and get clean looks.
A zone isn’t a great idea because it limits our rebounding advantage, and we have shown a proclivity to be slow rotating to defend the wing threes out of a zone this year.
The best chance for Wake Forest to win this game is pound the ball inside to John Collins early and often to establish a rhythm, and possibly pick up fouls on Colson to get him on the bench. The Irish rank 327th out of 351 teams nationally in bench minutes and really only go 7 deep in conference play. If Colson goes to the bench early then Collins, Moore, and even Mitoglou can pound inside successfully.
Both teams are going to get a lot of open shots, so it’s the team that will make them consistently that will ultimately win the game. I don’t think our defense is at a level that we can reasonably expect consistent stops, and that will ultimately be our downfall.
While I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibilities that they go cold from the perimeter, I believe they will get enough looks to shoot to their average and win the game.
I’ll take the Irish 88-77, with another big performance from John Collins on our end. I would expect Steve Vasturia to bust out of his mini-slump (34% from 3 in conference) and drain a few big threes.