Editor's Early Preview
Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- One of the more entertaining finishes of the season so far saw #15 Wake Forest (20-4, 7-4) hold off #18 Duke (21-5, 7-4) in the final seconds in Winston Salem. The Blue Devils will get a chance for revenge on their home floor, with seeding in the ACC & NCAA Tournaments at stake.
Wake Forest had a spectacular start to the season, opening with a 17-0 record, and getting wins over each of the top three ACC teams. A lull at the end of January saw them go through a 2-4 stretch, but they’ve rebounded with a couple of dominant wins over the last week. Duke is going through a lull of its own right now, going 3-4 after an impressive 18-1 start. All but one of the Blue Devils’ losses have come on the road, so they will glad to be playing this one in friendly territory.
Maybe it’s just in my head, but there seems to be a sort of general consensus that Duke is a perimeter-oriented team, fairly dependent on the outside shot. This isn’t really an accurate assessment, as the Blue Devils are actually pretty dependent on their play inside. Most of their success comes from two-point range, where they hit over 50%, and their other key strengths are getting to the free-throw line and offensive rebounding. They are also a solid ball-control team, but struggle with three-pointers, barely hitting a third of attempts. Wake Forest’s defense has been a bit Jekyll and Hyde lately, struggling against NC State and Boston College, before shutting down Florida St. and Georgia Tech. The problem for Wake Forest is that their defense is dependent on holding opponents to a low percentage of shots, and when they can’t do this, they are only average. When the defense is working, Wake Forest can lock down an opponent inside and outside: opponents shoot just 29% from three and 43% from two against them. One thing to look for in this game is shot blocks – Duke is prone to getting shots rejected, and Wake are prolific at swatting them away.
Wake Forest sits second in the ACC in points-per-game, but when you consider the points-per-possession rankings, the Deacons are a middle-of-road offensive team. Wake play at a very high pace, and generate most of their points from inside the arc, both in transition and from getting the ball inside in the halfcourt offense. The Deacons make 51% of two-point attempts, and also draw a lot of fouls, but despite this interior presence, they don’t get a lot of offensive rebounds. Duke’s defense has been one of the nation’s best, without doing any single thing really well. The Blue Devils defend shots effectively from all over the court, force a lot of turnovers, and keep opponents off the free throw line. They are quite used to having the ball pounded inside against them, and did do a pretty good job of shutting Wake down when the two teams first met.
Jeff Teague has been one of the season’s biggest surprises, having taken a big step up in his sophomore season, and leading Wake in scoring, assists and steals. Teague’s one of the ACC’s best shooters, at 50% from behind the arc, and also gets a lot of points at the free throw line. His only weakness is an occasional propensity for turnovers, but overall he’s a very efficient offensive player. After Teague, three talented big men highlight Wake’s roster. Highly touted freshman Al-Farouq Aminu has been an effective scorer, and leads the team in rebounding. James Johnson is a force on both ends, second on the team in scoring, and posting nice steal and block rates as well, while 7-footer Chas McFarland plays only 20 minutes a game, but is an excellent shot-blocker and rebounder when in. Guard L.D. Williams is the fifth starter, he doesn’t do much offensively, but can chip in on occasion, though he needs to shy away from the three-point shot. Off the bench, guard Harvey Hale had been an adequate depth player, while Ishmael Smith looks like a pure point guard, putting up good assist numbers, but really struggling with his shot. Tony Woods and David Weaver can provide some depth minutes inside, but are complimentary players at best.
Duke is basically a three-man team, as Jon Scheyer, Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler are all critical to the Blue Devils’ success. Singler is a very nice player who does just about everything well; a scorer from inside and outside, one of the team’s best rebounders, and a guy who can produce a few steals and assists without committing many turnovers. Henderson is a spectacular athlete, but an excellent percentage player as well, the team’s best three-point shooter and a good defender. Scheyer is probably the weakest of the three, but he’s another solid shooter who does a lot of damage at the free throw line. The point guard situation has been a troublesome one for Duke; Nolan Smith and Greg Paulus have both started at times, with Smith struggling with turnovers, and Paulus not much of an offensive threat. Elliot Williams started in the backcourt last game, and was a good scorer, but didn’t get an assist. Lance Thomas should be the fifth starter, he’s a solid inside scorer and rebounder, but is very poor at the free throw line. 7-1 junior Brian Zoubek hasn’t played much of late, but is an excellent rebounder when in. David McClure is another forward who can chip in defensively and on the glass, but only rarely attempts a shot.
Duke’s play of late hasn’t been too inspiring, but Wake isn’t exactly on a roll either. The Blue Devils must do better offensively than they did in the first meeting, and I’m not convinced that they will. It should be another tight, entertaining game, but I’ll take the visitors to get the ‘W’.
Winner: Wake Forest Margin: 2-6
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Wake barely got the best of Duke in Winston-Salem, which doesn't bode well for the return trip to Cameron. This is one of the best games all season that isn't produced by ABC or CBS properties.
Early Prediction: Duke