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Game Preview: Wake Forest vs Florida State

The Deacons have a chance to open the ACC schedule 4-0 for the first time since 2004-05

Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

It’s official. The hype around Wake Forest basketball is here. Now, it’s about making sure it stays. The best way to do that is to just keep on winning, and in doing so, the Deacs can make history. Wake Forest hasn’t opened its ACC schedule 4-0 since the 2004-05 season. It can accomplish that with a win in Tallahassee Tuesday night.

Game Info

Teams: Wake Forest (11-3, 3-0 ACC), Florida State (8-6, 2-1 ACC)

Date: Tuesday Jan. 9

Time: 7pm

Location: Donald L. Tucker Center; Tallahassee, FL

TV: ACC Network

History

Steve Forbes lost his first game against Florida State as the Demon Deacons’ coach in overtime. Since then, he’s gotten the better of the Seminoles, winning three-straight, all by at least eight.

The Metrics

Florida State is currently the No. 104 team in KenPom at the time of publication, as well as No. 119 in NET. The Seminoles are a pretty solid defensive team at No. 74, but lag behind offensively at 136. Neither their two-point or three-point percentages crack the top 190, and the free throws sit well behind average at 67.7%.

On defense, Florida State is top 50 in both block and steal percentage, aided significantly by the tallest average height in the nation. Over 40% of the team’s minutes come from the bench, good for No. 24 in the NCAA.

The Games

Q1: 1-2

Q2: 1-1

Q3: 3-3

Q4: 3-0

Best Win: 77-70 victory over Colorado (Nov. 21, Neutral)

Troubling Losses: 88-72 defeat to South Florida (Dec. 9, Neutral) and 78-75 defeat to Lipscomb (Dec. 30, Home)

The Lineup

As mentioned before, the personnel for Florida State is rather fluid, with the team boasting one of the highest bench minute counts in college basketball. Though just six players have started, highlighting the consistency of the opening lineup, 14 Seminoles have played in at least six games. 12 players are averaging at least 10 minutes per contest.

The Starters

G Darin Green Jr.

Green Jr. has started all 14 games for the Seminoles this season, averaging 31 minutes and 12.6 points per contest. While displaying a decent ability to shoot the ball from two, Green’s main expertise lies from behind the arc, where he’s hit 41% of his 91 attempts. He also fulfills the other side of the “three-and-d” makeup, notching 19 steals, good for second-best on the team.

Green is also impressive in his mobility on the court to create shots.

G Jalen Warley

Warley is averaging 22 minutes in his 14 starts. He’s struggled with his shot, currently hitting 38% of his attempts. Additionally, he has only taken one shot from three-point range, so he is not a threat to shoot from there. Warley has kept his turnover count quite low, but the fouls are a slight concern at an average of just under three per game; in three contests, he’s reached four or five fouls.

F Jamir Watkins

Watkins averages 26 minutes and 12.6 points per game for the Seminoles. He’s shooting 41% from the field and 33% on his attempts from three. Watkins leads Florida State in rebounds at 6.3 per game, is a prolific ball distributor with a team-high 42 assists and also tops the leaderboard in steals. But, he also leads the team in turnovers with 2.4 per game. Watkins is an all-around strong player for the Seminoles.

F De’Ante Green

The 6’9” sophomore has started the last nine games for Florida State after coming off the bench for the opening five. Green is averaging just under 17 minutes per game, while adding 6.6 points. Green doesn’t shoot the ball often, but connects on roughly half of his attempts when he does. Additionally, he is an impressive offensive rebounder, recording 21, a team high.

F Baba Miller

Miller is perhaps the most intriguing player on the Florida State roster; the 6’11” sophomore served a 16-game NCAA suspension to open last season. This year, he’s started every game, averaging 23.3 minutes and 7.6 points per match. Miller hits 48% of his shots from the field and 31% of his threes. When he gets to the free-throw line, he’s a liability, only dropping 41% of his attempts. Miller is second-best on the team with 5.1 rebounds per game.

The Depth Pieces

G Primo Spears

Ever since his debut on Dec. 16, Spears has proven to be an important piece of the Florida State roster, averaging 24 minutes off the bench. Despite shooting 33% from the field, he is scoring 11.8 points per game, third-best on the team.

F Cam Corhen

Corhen started the first five games of the season in place of De’Ante Green. Since then, he’s played in just three, missing a month before returning for Florida State’s past two games. Corhen is averaging 18.7 minutes per contest, shooting 60% from the field for nine points. He is also fourth-best on the team in offensive rebounds with 17 despite his smaller game count.

G Chandler Jackson

Jackson has played in every game this season, averaging 15.5 minutes and 4.9 points. He shoots 40% from the field and 28% from three. Jackson is a solid ball distributor, notching 21 assists.

G Josh Nickelberry

Nickelberry has appeared in all 14 contests for the Seminoles, averaging 13 minutes per game and just under four points. The guard profiles as a three-point specialist; 31 of his 41 shots have come from behind the arc, and he is hitting them at a 32% clip.

F Jaylan Gainey

Gainey is averaging 13.2 minutes in his nine games. He seldom shoots, but is hitting 64% of his attempts when he does.

F Taylor Bol Bowen

The 6’10” freshman is averaging 11 minutes per game this season, but his playing time has picked up to roughly 15 in the past five contests.

G Cam’Ron Fletcher

Fletcher appeared in seven games this season, but hasn’t played since Dec. 2 with a season-ending injury.

Essex’s Take, Keys to the Game

A few weeks ago, after Wake Forest’s win over Virginia Tech, I asked Steve Forbes about the notion of “never too high, never too low” as it relates to the Deacs. His answer, that his team’s resolve remains the same regardless of outcome, would lead one to believe that this 3-0 start in the ACC won’t change much.

But who can really say. Wake Forest is on a roll that hasn’t been seen in Winston-Salem for over a decade. The Deacs probably haven’t felt higher as a program in that time span either, perhaps except for the 2021-22 season that had Wake on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament.

Each of these past three victories has been impressive in their own distinct way, and one would probably look at them as tougher than Florida State. But now, more than ever, is not the time to look past the Seminoles. The Deacs have a chance to continue something special, but this is not the time to “get too high.” I don’t expect that to be the case, but it should still be said.

As for the game, here is how I envision the Deacs getting to 4-0 for the first time in 19 seasons.

Get the ball moving on offense

Florida State’s size can provide a distinct advantage against many teams on the offensive end, but on defense, they appear to be a bit slow on the ball and in rotation. Getting the ball moving fast opens up a fair amount of shots on the outside, and an opponent’s speed can create opportunities at the hoop.

Wake Forest runs a good offense that shares the ball a lot, but ensuring that it doesn’t die in one player’s hands will help break the Seminoles’ defense.

Physicality on defense

Florida State has several forwards pushing seven-feet tall, allowing the team to establish the paint and use their size effectively. Wake Forest also has impressive height, with Efton Reid leading the charge in the paint. Andrew Carr and Zach Keller have also gotten more aggressive on defense.

Matching up against Miller, Green and Corhen with physicality in mind — and not allowing them to be bullies in the paint — could severely dampen Florida State’s ability to score.

Stay out of foul trouble

This may seem like a departure from the prior key, but there is certainly a way to play physical defense without racking up fouls. That would be the perfect reality for Wake Forest, but might be a tall task on the road.

The Deacs fought foul trouble all afternoon against Miami — though it shouldn’t be held against them too much; the ref show was something out of this world. But, struggling with fouls does expose how much it can impact Wake Forest, especially when those players are Efton Reid and Hunter Sallis. Keeping them out of the foul count, and on the floor, would be a huge benefit.

Prediction

Florida State is an incredibly hard basketball team to understand. They beat the No. 33 KenPom team, Colorado, but also lost to the likes of Lipscomb and South Florida. The Seminoles have the height to be successful, as well as solid shooters, but are not efficient on the offensive end. As far as I can tell, they are incredibly inconsistent.

The Virginia Tech victory gives me pause, but Wake Forest is seemingly a team on a mission. Even when not at their best, the Deacs find ways to win. That’s impressive. So, even if things get tough in Tallahassee, it’s hard to pick against Wake Forest’s ability to figure it out.

Give me one of the best offenses in the ACC, an improved defense, refined rebounding and distinct resilience. Wake Forest moves to 4-0 in conference and 10-straight wins.

Wake Forest wins 78-67