Wake Forest at N.C. State
Wake Forest (11-11, 2-6) at N.C. State (16-7, 5-3), 1:00 PM, ACC Network split/ESPN3
By now, it’s pretty clear that the only way Wake Forest is going to win an ACC game against a team with legitimate talent is by slowing the pace to a crawl, hoping their opponent misses shots and they make some. Against North Carolina, they slowed it down and North Carolina missed shots, but the Deacons missed even more. And after a scare at Boston College on Wednesday, N.C. State understands now more than ever that they can’t take any of their remaining league games for granted. With its next stretch here, the Wolfpack should be 7-3 in the ACC before having three straight opportunities to knock off the top three teams in the league (Duke, Florida State and North Carolina, the latter two at home). But it has to get through this one first, and just because it won 76-40 in Winston-Salem a few weeks ago doesn’t mean the rematch will be easy. Although with the way Wake has been playing, it could be.
Stat to watch: Wake Forest’s three-point shooting. For once, you shouldn’t watch this statistic because of N.C. State’s three-point defense, which has actually improved significantly. This is more of an indictment of Wake’s offense and how much the Deacons have struggled to hit three’s in ACC play. In the non-conference, Wake hit 36% of its three’s, averaging 5.7 made three’s per game. In ACC play, Wake has hit just 25% and averaged 4.0 makes. In 11 wins this season, Wake his made 40.8% of its three’s compared to just 22.3% in 11 losses. In the ACC, it’s been even worse: the Deacons have made 20.6% of their three’s in league losses compared to 38.7% in two wins. Wake’s worst outing this season? A 2-of-20 performance against N.C. State in the 76-40 loss on January 14th.
C.J. Harris is Wake’s best shooter but he’s in a bit of a slump, making just 9-of-27 (33.3%) in league play. Still, he has over a quarter of Wake’s made three’s and along with Travis McKie (who has made just 6-of-25) those two have accounted for 47% of Wake’s made three’s in league play. Before conference play, those two accounted for half of Wake’s made three’s but they hit 46.5% combined. Tony Chennault and Chase Fischer have made three’s here and there, but the Deacons need them to step up and make a few more to take some pressure off of McKie and Harris. If they can, Wake might have somewhat of a chance. They’re certainly more offensively talented in general than Georgia Tech, which managed to beat N.C. State in Raleigh.
Most important players: Lorenzo Brown, N.C. State and Travis McKie, Wake Forest. McKie continues to play hard despite some frustrating outings, but last time he faced N.C. State, he was ejected after hitting Scott Wood with an elbow. It was unlike McKie to do that, but he was clearly frustrated. He’ll have to be able to contain that this time around. Against the league’s best teams, it’s been a mixed bag: he was 1-of-5 against N.C. State, 1-of-13 against Florida State and 2-of-11 against North Carolina. But he was 6-of-12 at Duke and 8-of-14 at Maryland, so it’s clear he can do it. And even when his shot isn’t falling, he’s really improved his rebounding: he’s averaging 10 rebounds in ACC play and 10.8 in the last five games (12.5 in the last two). But he had just four against N.C. State in thee last meeting. He’ll need to keep hitting the boards hard and eventually his shot will fall.
It’s not so much that Lorenzo Brown is playing badly, it’s how the sophomore point guard has looked while doing it. He doesn’t seem nearly as confident on the floor and at times, he seems unsure of his exact role in the offense in terms of how often he needs to assert himself as a scorer. He began ACC play averaging 13.3 points on 48% shooting, adding 32 assists (8.0 per game) to just 11 turnovers. But in the last four games, Brown has averaged 7.3 points on 35.5% shooting, adding 23 assists (5.8 per game) to 19 turnovers (4.8 per game). Brown is an excellent player and it showed in particular with his 20-point outing at Wake Forest in the first meeting this year. Even North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall, much less of a scoring threat generally than Brown, tore apart the Wake defense for 14 points on Wednesday. If Brown can’t get back on track in this game, it will be a bad omen for the rest of his – and State’s – season.
Random stat: N.C. State’s Richard Howell was whistled for just two fouls at Boston College on Wednesday, dropping his foul per game average to 3.3. But he is still on pace to at least challenge a rather dubious record of fouls in a season. Per Stephen Schramm at the Fayetteville Observer, the N.C. State single-season record is held by former point guard Ilian Evtimov, of all people (he had 110 fouls in 2005). The career record (372) is held by Cozell McQueen.
Prediction: N.C. State 82, Wake Forest 61
Last week: 12-0
Season: 96-31 (32-12 ACC)