In what will hopefully be the last Wake Forest basketball game played at the LJVM this season, the Demon Deacons welcome the No. 8 ranked Louisville Cardinals into Winston-Salem for a 9 P.M. tipoff.
The Deacs (16-12, 7-9) have a big chance tonight to knock off the Cards (23-6, 11-5), and get the marquee win they desperately need to appeal to the NCAA Selection Committee.
At this point Wake Forest likely needs to win three out of their next four games to feel safely in the NCAA Tournament with 19 wins. An exception could be made if they manage to win tonight and then beat their first round ACC Tournament opponent (while dropping a game to Virginia Tech on Saturday and losing to the second round ACC Tournament opponent).
Most of us know what’s at stake, so needless to say, if you are in the Winston-Salem area then get out to the Joel. I know it’s a later tip, but this is without a doubt the biggest game for Wake Forest basketball in the past 7 years.
There are still plenty of tickets available for $6 on StubHub (plus fees), and here’s an easily accessible link for you to go there and buy them right now (seriously, you don’t have to keep reading, just buy tickets)
***CLICK HERE*** Wake Forest-Louisville StubHub tickets
Alright, now that I’ve got the ticket spiel out of the way we can focus on the game itself.
Louisville is coached by HOF Rick Pitino, who other than being known for having a quick trigger, is a very good basketball coach as well. The Cardinals have won 7/10, and all of their losses this season have come to teams ranked in the KenPom top 25.
They are a very defensive-minded team that likes to apply pressure for 40 minutes via different types of full and half court presses and traps. While their turnover numbers aren’t as impressive as they have been in year’s past, their length and tenacity on the defensive side of the ball has them ranked in the top 25 in both 2P% allowed (21st nationally), and 3P% allowed (10th nationally).
It takes teams a very long time to get into their offensive sets, and this is something that could limit John Collins’ effectiveness. If it takes 10-12 seconds to get up the floor it cuts the amount of times we can try to get the ball into him/ball reversals. This has proven lethal to Wake down the stretch in a couple of games this year.
Sophomore Donovan Mitchell leads the Cards on the offensive end of the floor, averaging 16 PPG and 4.7 RPG. That probably understates how important he is, as he has scored 20+ points in his last three games. Mitchell will likely grab an All-ACC spot, and he is the guy that Wake will absolutely have to guard tonight.
Louisville prefers an average pace, and this game will likely be in the low 70’s as far as possessions go. The Cards opened as a 4 pt favorite, but as of writing this article it is actually down to 3.5 points, which is a bit surprising to me, as I figured it would go the opposite direction.
As mentioned earlier, it is Senior Night for Wake Forest. If I recall correctly, Wake does the “start all your seniors” thing, so that means we will likely roll with a starting five of:
Greg McClinton (will be honored with the seniors tonight)
This actually is a decent offensive and defensive lineup that should be manageable for the first 3-4 minutes before subs.
Tonight is a game that Doral Moore should be on the 5 foul plan. With the height, length, and lack of want for Louisville to shoot a lot of three-pointers, Collins and Moore can play together to stop the ball in the interior.
I fully expect Moore to get meaningful minutes (10-15) and be productive in those. This is certainly an “all hands on deck game”, because McClinton should be a good fit to get some minutes as well to help out on defense. There is a role for everybody on the team to play, and it will be the perfect game to figure out if the roles that have been established so far this season by Coach Danny Manning are fine-tuned and ready to go.
Given the matchup zone, pressing, and length of Louisville, this could be a difficult game for our shooters to get their shots off. I have faith that Woods and Crawford can get their shot off in traffic, but this could be a tough game for Arians to have a lot of clean looks.
A guy that could be HUGE in extending the defense and giving Collins room to work down low is Dinos Mitoglou. He has the length to shoot over the outstretched arms of Louisville, and that stretch four could wreak havoc if he hits a couple early shots.
Overall tonight should be a fun matchup. This is a crucial game for Wake Forest, and hey, this is what we live for—-meaningful home games down the stretch in March that will lead to an NCAA Tournament berth. Let’s buckle down, show up en masse, and give some support to a team that desperately deserves it.