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Game Preview: Wake Forest vs Louisville

This is a potential “get right” game for the Demon Deacons

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Wake Forest had an opportunity to bring a high-profile away win back to Winston-Salem on Tuesday night, until it melted away in just minutes. The Deacs led by 11 with less than a quarter of the contest remaining, but a combination of turnovers, fouls, dead offense and NC State getting its shots allowed the Wolfpack to rumble back in and steal a victory.

It was a sickening loss, a gut-punch for the fan base. But, it’s by no means the end of the road for Wake Forest, who is still No. 39 in KenPom on Thursday. The game displayed where things can go wrong in a flash for the Deacs, and further emphasized how important the road is going forward. It’s time for Wake Forest to make its move, and that stretch starts with Louisville on Saturday.

Game Info

Teams: Wake Forest (12-5, 4-2 ACC), Louisville (6-11, 1-5 ACC)

Date: Saturday Jan. 20

Time: 12pm

Location: LJVM Coliseum; Winston-Salem, NC

Broadcast: ESPNU; Anish Shroff and Josh Pastner

History

In his three seasons at Wake Forest, Steve Forbes is 2-2 overall against Louisville. He dropped the first two games, but has won back-to-back contests over the Cards by an average of 15 points.

The Metrics

It’ll come as no surprise that the metrics aren’t in love with Louisville. KenPom has Kenny Payne’s team at No. 190, while NET slates it at 230. Neither Louisville’s offense nor the defense cracks the top 150, but it lags behind far more with the latter. The team’s adjusted defensive efficiency is 244th in the country.

The Cardinals allow opponents to shoot 53.6% from the field, good for 298th in college basketball. In conference play, that number is 54.5. Louisville seldom records blocks or steals. Offensively, the Cards rank below 200 in both two and three-point percentage, with shots inside the arc trailing at 48.5%.

Louisville does not turn to the bench often, likely because it is one of the least-experienced teams in the country.

The Games

Q1: 1-4

Q2: 0-3

Q3: 0-1

Q4: 5-3

Best Win: 80-71 victory over Miami (Jan. 10, Away)

Troubling Losses: 75-68 defeat to DePaul (Dec. 9, Neutral), 75-63 defeat to Arkansas State (Dec. 13, Home)

The Lineup

For how disastrous Louisville’s season has been thus far, there’s a good amount of talent on the roster. Five players are averaging over double-digit points, and the guard trio of Mike James, Skyy Clark and Tre White can be dangerous if not given enough credit.

The Starters

G Skyy Clark

The sophomore, a transfer from Illinois, is averaging nearly 35 minutes per game to go with 14.3 points, both team highs. He isn’t shooting well from the field — he’s at 38.8% on the season and 36.1 in the ACC — but is pretty solid from behind the three-point line.

Clark is a good rebounder, notching 3.2 per contest, and can distribute the ball well. His 51 turnovers, three per game, are a team-worst.

G Tre White

Another sophomore transfer, this time from USC, White missed over two weeks with a groin injury, but has been back for Louisville’s past two games. He hasn’t started since a Dec. 21 contest against Kentucky, though.

White is scoring 12.2 points in his 30.5 minutes per game, mostly off his 42% shooting clip from the field. The 6’7” guard also brings 78 total rebounds to the table, but the assist:turnover ratio is sub-one.

G/F Mike James

James has played in every game this season, adding just under 14 points in his 32.3 minutes. Just over a third of his shots come from behind the arc, where he is making them at a rate of 42.4%. He is second on the team in rebounds with 96, but also leads the Cards in fouls.

F Danilo Jovanovich

Jovanovich is a tricky one. The Miami transfer has played in 12 of Louisville’s 17 games and has started four ACC contests. But he’s only averaging 8.1 minutes. In the Cards’ past two games, both of which he was a member of the starting five, he played three and four minutes respectively.

In those 8.1 minutes per game, Jovanovich is shooting 23.5% from the field, has not made a three-pointer and averages under a point. He doesn’t add much on the boards either. It’ll be interesting to see if Payne continues using Jovanovich as an opener Saturday.

F Brandon Huntley-Hatfield

Huntley-Hatfield has started all 17 games for Louisville this season, averaging a shade under 30 minutes and 10.5 points. He boasts a shooting percentage above 50 and leads the team in rebounds by a wide margin. His assist-to-turnover ratio is not good, but Huntley-Hartfield does contribute a block per game. At 6’10”, he’ll likely be the matchup for Efton Reid.

The Depth Pieces

G/F Curtis Williams

Ever since the beginning of December, Williams’ minutes have seen a large rise — now at 23.3 per contest despite not starting. The freshman’s calling card is the three-pointer; 34 of his 46 shot-attempts in conference have come from behind the arc, and he’s hitting them at a 44% clip. Williams is averaging over 10 points in the ACC.

G Ty-Laur Johnson

A freshman, Johnson started two ACC games for the Cardinals this season, but has come off the bench in the past three. Regardless, he’s a big presence for Louisville, averaging 21.7 minutes and over eight points in conference play. Neither his two or three-point shooting is impressive, but he averages three assists per appearance and can be a pesky defender.

F Kaleb Glenn

In 10.6 minutes per game, Glenn is scoring just under two points. He adds three rebounds per contest, but is prone to fouling.

G Hercy Miller

Despite starting the last three ACC games, Miller is averaging just five minutes in conference play and has only taken three shots — all three-pointers, of which he’s one-for-three.

Essex’s Take/Keys to the Game

My take here is pretty short and sweet. As Steve Forbes said after the loss at Florida State, he’s not one for having his team flush a game away and never think of it again. I agree. From both that loss and the one to NC State Tuesday, Wake Forest MUST learn. The Deacs are an incredibly good basketball team and can beat just about anyone on their best day, I truly believe that. But when they play the way they did in those two losses, the results are likely not going to be pretty.

The hope is that Wake Forest takes the right things away from the trip to Raleigh. Reflecting on mistakes is a good practice, dwelling on them is not. But if Wake Forest wants to go where it CAN go this season, such games cannot be recreated. It’s time for the Deacs to get their swagger back.

Protect the ball, or else

I said these words in our episode over at BOTG, “The buck needs to stop here” when it comes to Wake Forest’s turnovers. 20 at Florida State, 17 against Virginia and 16 in Raleigh. It’s a serious problem. And, the Deacs have been shown what can happen when they don’t retain possession, they lose. Louisville is not a team that forces many turnovers, but regardless, this could be a good game for Wake Forest to return to that protective mindset. At a certain point, enough is enough.

Be fast, move the ball, get it inside

North Carolina found a good deal of success when playing fast against Louisville. That means getting out in transition, not being “sped up,” which can hurt Wake Forest. Ball movement is also critical for the Deacs — when the ball isn’t swinging around, the offense gets stagnant. When that happens, the offense tends to die (as seen Tuesday). This is a good opportunity for Wake Forest to get back to the basics on that end.

Additionally, the Tar Heels got the offense going from the outside-in, pushing the ball into Armando Bacot in the paint and post. He put together a good performance from there, scoring 19 points. It also gave UNC a litany of high–percentage shots. That might be an entry point the Deacs consider for Saturday.

Welcome, Andrew Carr

Carr finally returned to his previously fantastic performances, putting up a career-high 28 points and shooting the lights out. Most of those shots came from the outside against NC State, which is counter to where I believe he can find openings Saturday (on the inside). Regardless, getting Carr going was huge. He could mean a lot on both ends against the Cardinals with his size.

Prediction

It’s time to bring back one of my favorite sayings when it comes to college basketball, and sports in general, “Punch your opponent in the mouth first.” With Louisville’s struggles on the defensive end, the Deacs have a chance to get things going on offense from the very start, and with it, build a healthy early lead. If Wake Forest can do that, I don’t envision the Cardinals battling back into the game.

But, if things are tightly contested early on, it will come down to the Deacons’ resiliency to beat a team of which they are far superior. Wake Forest has proven they can achieve that.

As said before, this is a “get right” game. So, don’t make it one. Make it a Wake Forest practice. I like the Deacs’ chances of doing that Saturday.

Wake Forest wins 85-64