Wake Forest is 2-0 in the ACC for the first time since the 2008-09 season after victories over Virginia Tech and Boston College. The Deacs are also riding the nation’s seventh-longest active winning streak at eight straight. Getting to 3-0 and nine straight will be a challenge with a highly talented Miami Hurricanes team coming to the Joel for a Saturday afternoon showdown. Get ready for the game with our preview below.
Teams: Wake Forest (10-3, 2-0 ACC), Miami (11-2, 2-0 ACC)
Date: Saturday Jan. 6
Location: LJVM Coliseum; Winston-Salem, NC
TV: The CW
Steve Forbes’ first and only win over Miami came in his opening season with Wake Forest, taking down the Hurricanes 66-54 back when the likes of Carter Whitt, Jonah Antonio and Ody Oguama were on the roster. Since then, all losses. None have been blowouts, though. A four-point loss at home in 2022 hurt, and certainly could’ve been a win. Last season, the Deacs lost by two in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, where a victory really could have shook things up in Greensboro.
Miami is currently ranked No. 45 in KenPom, three spots behind Wake Forest. In NET, though, the Canes rocketed up to No. 40 following a Wednesday victory over Clemson, 15 places better than the Deacons.
Miami is one of the few teams that can claim an offense that is equal to or better than Wake Forest’s; the Canes are currently No. 19 in efficiency per KenPom. The defense lags behind at 124. The Hurricanes’ effective field goal percentage is 6th in the land, highlighted by the No. 6 three-point percentage, No. 22 two-point percentage and No. 4 free-throw percentage.
If there is one minus on the Miami offense, and it’s not a large one, it’s the turnover rate and offensive rebound percentage not cracking the top 100. But the reality is, Miami makes shots. Their offense is legit.
Best Win: 95-82 victory over Clemson (Jan. 3, Home)
Troubling Loss: None, both defeats were against Top 30 teams in NET
Between Norchad Omier, Wooga Poplar, Matthew Cleveland and Nijel Pack, Miami has one of the most high-octane offenses in the country. It shoots the ball exceptionally well and can get the ball moving incredibly fast; the Canes are not a slow team. Miami presents a big test for an improving Wake Forest defense, and the Deacs’ offense will have to keep up.
G Nijel Pack
Pack, in his second season with Miami after transferring from Kansas State, is the primary ball-handling guard, averaging 32.4 minutes per game. His field-goal percentage has remained roughly the same from last year, but the three pointers have seen a 5% uptick. In the Canes’ win over Clemson Wednesday, Pack popped off with 25 points on 8-13 FG, 3-4 3PT.
Pack can distribute the ball, averaging four assists per game, and is not a player that turns the ball over often. He has a second-sense to get downhill towards the hoop, using that to both create shots for himself and for his teammates. Pack is a very talented player and one the Deacs will have to watch out for on Saturday.
G Bensley Joseph
Averaging 29 minutes per game, Joseph is a good all-around player for the Hurricanes. He doesn’t score as much as the other guards — nine points per game — but is a viable option on offense when he chooses to take the shot. Joseph is at his best moving the ball on offense; his 51 assists lead the team. Joseph’s real value comes on the defensive end, though, where he leads the team with 29 steals (over two per game) and 11 blocks. He can be a real problem for the Deacons’ offense if they allow him to be.
G Wooga Poplar
Poplar sat out Wednesday night with an ankle injury, but has otherwise played every game this season while contributing an impressive 16.2 points per contest. On top of a solid 52% make rate from the field, Poplar is a serious threat from behind the arc. He’s not afraid to take the shots, and is hitting them at a 50% clip, good for 17th-best in the nation.
Despite his 6-5 frame, Poplar is second on the team in defensive rebounds, proving his ability to “help down” on the boards. If anything, he can be a little turnover prone, with 2.5 per game, but that is certainly low for being the highest on the team.
G Matthew Cleveland
Cleveland, a transfer from Florida State, is another key cog in the Miami offense, boasting a high efficiency rate and an impressive 56 FG%. He’s averaging nearly 15 points per game, third most on the team. Cleveland has a pretty full “bag” of tricks on offense; he can back down to the hoop using his 6-7 size and fade away, he can drive to the hoop and can also hit spot-ups.
This will probably be the matchup for Andrew Carr, and it will be a battle considering the size differential.
F Norchad Omier
There’s a lot to love when it comes to the Miami offense, but there is no player I’m more impressed with than Omier. He’s the same height as Cleveland, but fills more of the forward role. That doesn’t affect his offensive output in the slightest, though. Omier knocks down over 62% of his shots and has a true shooting percentage of 70.5 per KenPom, coming in at No. 12 in the nation. 17.6 points per game doesn’t hurt, either.
Norchad Omier over Miami’s last four games:— Luke Chaney (@lukechaney247) January 4, 2024
This is the first time in Omier’s collegiate career that he’s scored at least 20 points in four straight games.
: @CanesHoops pic.twitter.com/Km6QQO3BCw
Omier is a rebounding machine as well, averaging roughly 10 per contest, nearly double the closest player on the team. He’s been good for 34 offensive boards this season.
The Depth Pieces
G Kyshawn George
George has started two games this season, filling in for Pack, and is averaging 16 minutes per contest. He profiles almost exclusively as a three-point threat, with 40 of his 55 shot attempts coming from behind the arc. To boot, he’s hitting 40% of those threes. He also adds a little bit of size, beating out any other player in the starting lineup with his 6-8 frame.
G Christian Watson
Watson has played in all 13 games for the Hurricanes this season, averaging 14 minutes. His shooting percentage is solid, most of them coming from two-point range. He’s a nice player to have when one of Miami’s four starting guards needs a break.
F AJ Casey
Casey seldom scores, averaging three points per game, but is a good rebounder at 6-9. He appears to be the primary relief for Omier.
C Michael Nwoko
At 6-10, Nwoko is the tallest player with consistent playing time for the Canes. With Wake Forest’s size — especially Carr and Efton Reid — it’ll be interesting to see if he has more than his usual nine minutes on the court. Of note, he didn’t play against Clemson and PJ Hall.
Essex’s Take, Keys to the Game
I mean, this feels like more than your traditional early January game, right? Wake Forest is on a roll, looking like a completely different team than it was in early-season losses to Georgia, Utah and LSU. Sure, some of that is the emergence of Efton Reid after his transfer waiver was approved, but to me, it feels like more. I think this entire Deacons’ team has hit a new level.
Now, that improved performance will truly be put to the test. Miami is the best offense the Deacs have faced this season, one that can finally match up with their own high-octane output. It’ll be a serious challenge. If the Deacons pass, it will be further proof of what this team is capable of: contending in the ACC and making a return to the NCAA Tournament.
In order to win, Wake Forest will need its best stuff. Here are some possible keys.
Defend the three-point line
Miami shoots about 22 threes per game, and when it does, they often go in (41.6 team percentage). The Canes are really impressive with their ability to make room out of nothing for those shots. Monitoring the three-point line a little more than normal would be beneficial, as well as being aware of the kickouts, something that Miami pulls regularly.
Get back, D up
Miami is a fast team according to the metrics, but from what I watched against Clemson on Wednesday, it can move even faster than the numbers say. The Canes can get out in transition in a flash to create offense, and when the opportunity arises, they will pull up for high-percentage jumpers on the break.
It seems simple, but getting back on defense is big here. Taking the wind out of potential Miami fastbreaks could play a role in some offensive hiccups. Also, Wake Forest has rolled out the full-court press a few times — I think that would be wise to continue, and perhaps run more frequently, on Saturday.
Find the cracks in Miami’s defense
The Hurricanes offense is, without a doubt, impressive. The defense, not so much. Against Q1 and Q2 opponents, Miami is giving up 81.6 points per game. The cracks are there. For example, around the three-point line, a well-placed pick often opens up a good shot opportunity. This works really well for a team like Wake Forest that consistently uses motion at the top of the key. Additionally, Norchad Omier is vulnerable on the defensive end. Players like Efton Reid, Andrew Carr and Zach Keller can all use their size to get to the hoop.
The size advantage can certainly be impactful for the Deacons’ offense. More on that in my final key.
Get Andrew Carr involved
For 39.5 minutes, it wasn’t Carr’s night against Boston College on Tuesday. He was 0-3 from the field, and generally seemed uncomfortable on offense. Of course, that all changed with his game-sealing — and potentially saving — three-pointer with 12 seconds remaining.
On Saturday, the opportunity presents itself to get Carr back on track. He’s going to have a size advantage on anyone who defends him. Add that to his improved ability at getting to the hoop and using his frame as his friend, and I think Carr could be primed for a big-time game. That, of course, requires the ball getting into his hands.
This game has the makings of an absolute war between two of the best offenses in the conference, and the country. Miami has its prolific guards to complement Norchad Omier, and Wake Forest has a dangerous backcourt trio to go along with their size in the front. Plus, don’t forget about three-point sharpshooter Parker Friedrichsen. I like his matchup opportunities in this one.
If this plays out the way I expect it to, this game should be neck-and-neck. Wake Forest passed its most recent test on close games, and this could very well be another one.
This one is a toss up in my mind, and in the metrics’ too. But I do envision there being one possible difference maker: DEACTOWN.
If this game were played in Miami, I would probably give the Hurricanes the edge. But in a tight game, a tough environment for the opponent could be just enough to push the Deacons over the finish line.
Because of the Deacon faithful, and the growing numbers the Joel has seen despite students being on break — noting 10k vs Virginia Tech — I’m taking Wake Forest.
Wake Forest wins 78-75