Wake Forest at Duke
Wake Forest (10-7, 1-2) at Duke (15-2, 3-0), 7:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3
As recently as a week ago, this could have been a somewhat competitive game. Well, competitive as in Wake Forest might have kept it close for half the game. There’s no way that happens now after the egg Wake just laid on Saturday against N.C. State. And even if this were a confident Wake Forest team it wouldn’t matter. Duke has owned the Deacons in Cameron Indoor lately, winning the last six by an average of 16.2 points; two of those wins were against some pretty good Wake teams (2004, 2005 and 2009). This Wake team? Not so good.
Stat to watch: The foul line. That’s really the only area Wake has excelled in this year, but certainly not in ACC play so far. A big reason the Deacons are 1-2 in the ACC is they are averaging just 11.3 attempts per game (24.8 attempts in the non-conference). Wake’s opponents were averaging 21.4 fouls in the non-conference and ACC foes have averaged just 14. Duke averaged 17 fouls in non-conference games and 17.7 in-conference, so not a big jump there. Fouls haven’t even been a huge factor in their losses (just 14 at Ohio State and 19 against Temple). But fouls have extended games the Blue Devils were dominating and made them closer than they should have been (Michigan State: 21 fouls, Washington: 21 fouls and Georgia Tech, 22 fouls).
Wake’s opponents still haven’t gotten to the line much in ACC play except in their only road game: at Maryland, the Terrapins attempted 37 free-throws, by far the most by a Wake opponent this year. In that close loss, Wake managed to get whistled for 28 fouls. Duke’s opponents are averaging 20.3 fouls in conference, down slightly from nearly 22 out of conference. Wake can’t afford to commit that many fouls. Duke has averaged 24 free-throw attempts per game in conference, down slightly from 27.6 out of conference, but averaged just 18.5 attempts over the last two games. Wake has to keep them off the foul line because Duke will do plenty of scoring from the field as it is.
Most important players: C.J. Harris, Wake Forest and Austin Rivers, Duke. Harris has had some big games against ACC foes, but not against Duke. He has averaged 6.5 points on 3-of-14 shooting (2-of-6 from three, 1-of-8 from two). Wake is 7-0 this year and 8-1 overall when Harris has 20 or more points. He’s certainly shown he’s more than capable of doing that. Wake is 10-30 in his career (3-7 this year) when Harris doesn’t hit the 20-point mark. Kind of an arbitrary stat, but who else besides McKie is capable of scoring? His average has dipped way down in league play to 11 a game and he is shooting 32% from the floor (27% from three). Duke has had some trouble guarding good perimeter players in the past and if they struggle with Harris, this game could be as close as their other ACC outings have been.
Rivers is playing like most freshmen play when hitting the ACC season, and that’s to be expected. Blogger So Dear (a Wake blog) ran a Q&A with a Duke Hoops Blog writer (@TheDevilWolf on Twitter), who had an interesting take on Rivers’ struggles: “I think he’s one of those guys who is just wrestling with himself right now, similar to what Harrison Barnes went through last season. If you remember, Barnes took off when Larry Drew was removed from the situation – I don’t expect a mid-season transfer from Duke, but I do think Rivers’ improvement has as much to do with his upperclassmen teammates as it does with himself.” Not much to add to that. To read that interview, click here.
Random stat: Wake Forest is 13-1 when leading at halftime under Jeff Bzdelik, 16-2 when leading with 10 minutes remaining and 17-1 leading with five minutes remaining. But – and this is crazy, since Wake has lost some close games – the Deacons are 4-28 when trailing at half under Bzdelik, 2-29 when trailing with 10 minutes remaining and ONE AND THIRTY (as in one win, 30 losses) when trailing with five minutes remaining. That sums up the Jeff Bzdelik era.
Prediction: Duke 83, Wake Forest 56
Last week: 6-5
Season: 72-27 (11-8 ACC)