On March 20th, 2010, a Wake Forest team led by seniors Ishmael Smith and LD Williams, as well as a sophomore star in Al-Farouq Aminu, played their final game in the Old Gold and Black, a 90-60 loss in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 to a loaded Kentucky Wildcats team.
How could anybody have possibly known at the time that it would be 2,551 days until Wake Forest took the basketball court again to compete in the NCAA Tournament?
Tonight, the No. 11 seeded Wake Forest Demon Deacons (19-13) will make a triumphant return to the center stage of the college basketball world as they take on the No. 11 Kansas State Wildcats (20-13) on TruTv at approximately 9:10.
The game tonight will start 25-30 minutes after the completion of the New Orleans-Mount St. Mary’s game.
The victor will be rewarded with a trip to Sacramento to take on the No. 6 Cincinnati Bearcats at 7:27 on Friday night.
As the immortal coach Skip Prosser famously stated “We are going to be good again”, and while this is nowhere close to where he would want the Deacs to eventually finish, it’s one hell of a step.
A lot of people say the First Four isn’t part of the actual NCAA Tournament and simply a play-in game. Quite frankly (my dear), I don’t give a damn what you call it, these two teams are in the NCAA Tournament in my book. If you want to contest what this fan base and basketball team has gone through the last 7 years then be my guest, but you will be met with a wall of opposition.
Kansas State is coached by Bruce Weber, former Illinois coach, now in his fifth year in The Little Apple. Wake Forest is coached by Danny Manning, in his third year at Mother So Dear.
Wake Forest is led by sophomore sensation John Collins, who exploded onto the scene this year to average 18.9 PPG and 9.8 RPG and finish second in ACC Player of the Year voting.
Collins isn’t the only successful sophomore on the team, as point guard Bryant Crawford (16.1 PPG. 5.4 APG), and Charlotte transfer Keyshawn Woods (12.8 PPG, 3.5 APG) provide a powerful perimeter punch for the Deacs as well.
The Kansas State Wildcats are primarily known for a lockdown defense, as well as balanced scoring across the board. Their best player is probably 6-7 senior Wesley Iwundu (12.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG), who stuck with the program for all four years despite a lot of blips on the Kansas State radar.
In addition to Iwundu, Bruce Weber will rely on sophomore guards Kamau Stokes (11.6 PPG, 4.3 APG), and Barry Brown (11.7 RPG, 3.2 RPG) to stay with the high powered Wake Forest offense.
Big man D.J. Johnson (11.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG) will draw at least the initial assignment on John Collins, but that will be a total team effort to shut down the interior play of Wake Forest.
Tonight’s game will be a contrast of styles to say the least. Kansas State prefers a slower tempo (257th in the nation), while Wake Forest will try to run and get some easy points in transition before the KSU defense can get set.
The Wildcats rank 27th in the nation defensively according to KenPom, while Wake Forest boasts the nation’s 8th best offense. Despite the overall defensive success. the Wildcats have a serious hole in perimeter defense, allowing opponent’s to shoot 38.3% on the year from behind the arc (324th nationally). Wake Forest will look to exploit that as well, coming into the game shooting 38.7% from 3 (30th nationally).
A big key to the game will be how well the Wildcats can force the Demon Deacons into making mistakes on the offensive end. When Kansas State forces a turnover on 20% or more of opponent’s possessions they usually win. Wake Forest doesn't turn the ball over very much though, ranking 45th nationally in turnover rate at 16.5%.
On the flip side, the 50th ranked Kansas State offense will look to score at will against a less-than-stellar Wake Forest defense that ranks 159th nationally (the worst defensive team in the tournament of an at-large team).
The Wildcats rely on getting to the free throw line and shooting at a high percentage from inside the arc to defeat their opponents. A spread out offensive attack that sees five guys average between a 20-23% usage rate will present a unique challenge for Danny Manning and his defense.
Stokes and Brown may not be the most efficient scorers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t put points up in a hurry. Brown hit all four of his threes in the Kansas State upset win over Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament that likely propelled them to the NCAA Tournament.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Kansas State (20-13, 8-10 Big 12)
G: #3 Kamau Stokes (11.6 ppg., 4.3 apg.)
G: #5 Barry Brown (11.7 ppg., 3.2 rpg.)
G: #25 Wesley Iwundu (12.5 ppg., 6.4 rpg.)
F: #32 Dean Wade (9.4 ppg., 4.6 rpg.)
F: #4 D.J. Johnson (11.2 ppg., 5.8 rpg.)
Wake Forest (19-13, 9-9 ACC)
G: #1 Keyshawn Woods (12.8 ppg., 3.5 apg.)
G: #13 Bryant Crawford (16.1 ppg., 5.4 apg.)
F: #34 Austin Arians (8.3 ppg., 1.9 rpg.)
F: #20 John Collins (18.9 ppg., 9.8 rpg.)
F: #44 Dinos Mitoglou (9.0 ppg., 6.3 rpg.)
Overall tonight presents both teams with an opportunity to make a statement on a national stage and move on to Friday night. Wake Forest and Kansas State are both very good teams, and it’s unfortunate that one will have to go home tonight, but that’s the nature of the NCAA Tournament beast.
We here at Blogger So Dear are damn proud of the Demon Deacons for what they have accomplished this season, and we aren’t ready to stop covering the team. I am sure Bring On The Cats feels the same way about the Wildcats.
Today will be a long day of waiting and checking the clock, but we’ve waited 7 painstakingly long years for this, what the hell is another 12 hours at this point?