Quick, more truncated preview with the one-day turnaround. A podcast with Devils Illustrated’s Conor O’Neill will be available later this afternoon.
Saturday’s win over NC State was about as gritty as Wake Forest has played all season. It wasn’t always great, but the Demon Deacons did just enough to get the job done. The team now holds a three-game winning streak and loads of momentum leading into a critical matchup with Duke Monday.
Since the team’s loss at Pitt, Wake Forest has done everything right, and in some ways, everything it was supposed to. Now, in what could be a way to rocket off the bubble, the Deacs have an opportunity to bring home what would absolutely be the biggest win of the regular season by taking down the Blue Devils in Cameron. It would completely shift the narrative.
Teams: Wake Forest (16-7, 8-4 ACC), Duke (18-5, 9-3 ACC)
Date: Monday Feb. 12
Location: Cameron Indoor Stadium; Durham, NC
Steve Forbes has defeated Duke once as the head coach of Wake Forest, an 81-70 home victory last season. The rest, all losses, but the past two defeats for the Deacs in Cameron Indoor have both been by just two points.
Coming close is one thing, winning at Cameron Indoor is another. Wake Forest hasn’t won a game on Duke’s home court since Jan. 11, 1997 — Dave Odom was the head coach, Tim Duncan scored 26 points and the Deacs were the No. 2 team in the nation.
Duke outranks Wake Forest in both KenPom and NET, led by a top 10 offense and No. 36 defense in KP efficiency. The Blue Devils boast a 54.9 effective field-goal percentage and are top 50 from both two and three-point range. The offense also doesn’t turn the ball over often.
Defensively, Duke is just above average in opponent FG%, 2PT% and 3PT% while giving up very few offensive rebounds.
The Blue Devils are below NCAA average in bench minutes and above the mean in two-foul participation.
Best Win: 78-70 victory over Baylor (Dec. 20, Neutral)
Troubling Loss: 80-76 defeat to Pitt (Jan. 20, Home)
In conference play, Duke has 10 players who have appeared in at least eight games, a large number, but can also become as small as a seven-man rotation. The Blue Devils are led by a bevy of high-end recruits and stars, including Kyle Filipowski, Jeremy Roach and Jared McCain.
G Jeremy Roach
Roach is one of Jon Scheyer’s several prized returnees, averaging 14 points in 31.5 minutes per game. The guard is a strong shooter, knocking down 47.5% of his field goals and, while not a high-volume three-point player, he’s hitting those attempts at a 44.3% clip.
Roach is a solid ball distributor as well, more than tripling his assist-to-turnover ratio. Additionally, he leads the team in steals.
G Jared McCain
McCain, the lone freshman in the starting lineup, has put up the second-most shots for Duke this season, making 45.3% of them. Over half have come from the three-point line, at a 38.2% conversion rate.
Just 6’3”, McCain provides a lot of rebounding ability, bringing down nearly five per game. He’s averaging 12.7 points and 29.5 minutes per contest. In ACC play, the minutes have gone up, while the shooting has dipped a touch.
G Tyrese Proctor
In his second season with the Blue Devils, Proctor is averaging 28.9 minutes and 10.6 points per game, along with a 45.1 FG%. Over half of his shots are threes, but he’s one of the more low-volume guards in the lineup.
Proctor leads Duke in assists.
F Mark Mitchell
In conference play, Mitchell has been highly impactful the limited times he shoots the ball, knocking down 61.7% of his field goals and five of his 12 three-pointers. This year, he’s averaging 12.7 points and is pulling down over six boards per game.
He has been Duke’s KenPom MVP in its last two contests.
C Kyle Filipowski
The ACC Preseason Player of the Year pick is having another strong season for the Blue Devils, putting up 17.2 points in 30 minutes per game. Filipowski leads the team in shots, with a 49.5 FG%. Additionally, he has shown the ability to take/make threes, hitting 28 of 78.
Filipowski is a bit of a liability from the free-throw line, only making 65% of his attempts. He leads the team with 8.2 rebounds per contest, but is also tops in turnovers and fouls.
Filipowski registers over two blocks per game.
The Depth Pieces
G Caleb Foster
The 6’5” freshman is averaging 25.3 minutes off the bench in conference play, though he has only been a non-member of the starting five for Duke’s past three contests. Foster is a solid shooter, including from three-point range.
C Ryan Young
Young has played in every conference game this season, averaging 12.8 minutes. He’s a low-volume shooter and a decent rebounder, but can get himself into trouble with fouls and turnovers.
F Sean Stewart
Averaging seven minutes per game, Stewart has seen action in 10 of 12 ACC contests. Not much of a shooter, but has good numbers with offensive rebounds.
Essex’s Take/Keys to the Game
I made this point ahead of Wake Forest football’s 2022 matchup with Clemson — if there was ever a game for the Deacs to beat the Tigers, that would be the year to do so. And, Wake Forest almost did. One could argue it should’ve won.
I feel similarly about Monday night. If there was a year to go to Cameron Indoor and take down the Blue Devils, this could very well be it. Between the team Wake Forest has put together, the matchups, the momentum and the fact that Duke isn’t invincible, it’s possible.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be easy. It’ll be incredibly difficult. But, if the Deacs find a way to beat Duke, it would be the prime opportunity to upgrade from a bubble team to a squad firmly in the field.
Here’s how the Deacs can stun Duke.
Wake Forest certainly could’ve found itself in foul trouble Saturday against NC State. Efton Reid had two within minutes. But then, the Deacs locked in. Reid didn’t hit his third until four minutes remained in regulation. Not a single Deacon reached four fouls. In contrast, NC State had three players reach four fouls — Casey Morsell, Michael O’Connell and Ben Middlebrooks. Wake Forest entered the bonus at the midpoint of the second, and shot 12 critical times from the free-throw line. The Wolfpack took just 11 the entire game.
Against Duke, Wake Forest is going to need its best players for every minute possible. That especially means keeping Reid and Carr out of trouble, though Matthew Marsh has proven capable as of recent. The guards will each be needed for their own reasons, too.
Simply put, Wake needs its guys to stay on the court.
The Deacs did a really good job at limiting turnovers Saturday, especially in the second half. Though, the five in the first were primarily live-action turnovers that led to buckets at the other end, making them feel far more pivotal than your average loss of possession.
Those NC State points scored off the turnovers emphasize how critical protecting the basketball is. Additionally, it keys in on what makes Wake Forest’s offense work — responsible ball movement. Put those two things together — ball movement and lack of turnovers — and usually the Wake Forest offense hums, and puts other teams away.
Win the battle down low
Duke’s front-court pairing of Kyle Filipowski and Mark Mitchell is highly valuable to the Blue Devils. Similarly, Efton Reid and Andrew Carr are impact players. The battle there is bound to be a big part of the game.
Winning that could go a long way.
I mentioned this in past previews and podcasts, but Wake Forest’s metrics and eye test tell us that it is a NCAA Tournament team. What doesn’t quite yet is the resume. The Deacs’ story thus far is a nice one — home wins and not losing bad games. What would turn it from a nice story to a very good one is marquee wins. Duke would surely fit the bill.
But, as much as I’ve said that Wake Forest CAN win this game at Cameron Indoor, I can’t pick them to do so. I expect a close game, but the Deacs have to prove they can go pick up this type of victory before I give them the benefit of the doubt.
Here’s to what should be a highly-contested contest. Duke is always circled on the schedule. Wake Forest should be up. The question is: can it do enough to win?
Duke wins 76-70