Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wake Forest Preview

Duke and Wake are similar teams in a lot of ways. Both like to shoot the three ball. Both are very average inside in terms of rebounds and shot-blocking. Both do a generally good job hanging on to the basketball, and both are positive in turnover margin in conference play (Wake is +16, Duke is +69). The difference comes primarily in the ability of the two teams to put the ball in the basket. Duke is tops in the conference in shooting, while Wake is 7th, and only a recent string of really hot shooting has propelled them that high.

Two freshmen are leading the way for the Deacs this year, James Johnson and Jeff Teague. Johnson's a do it all kind of player - he can score inside and outside, he rebounds well, and plays solid defense, generating a healthy percentage of both steals and blocks. Teague is a guard who prefers to shoot inside than outside, and picks up a healthy number of assists as well.

Wake has been a very good team at home this season. They're 4-1 in conference play, with the only loss coming against Georgia Tech when the defense decided to take the night off. In conference, they have a +9.43 efficiency margin at home, so they play like the third best team in the ACC at Lawrence-Joel.

The way I see it, this game comes down to three keys. First is turnovers. On the whole, Wake is good at hanging on to the ball - 3rd fewest turnovers in conference play. But they've struggled against the teams that focus on turning the opponents over - 22 TOs against Clemson, 20 against Georgia Tech, and 20 against Florida State. Last year in Cameron, Ish Smith was hounded into a 0 assist, 8 turnover performance, and although he's cut down on turnovers this year, he's still vulnerable (he had 17 in the three games listed above). Duke likes forcing turnovers, and this could be a problem for the Deacs.

Second is three point shooting. As a team, Wake had been awful from outside until the last three games. Over their first 20 contests, they took 21 3s a game, and hit fewer than 30% of them. Over the past three games, however, they've found their stroke - 30 for 61, including 8 of 13 at Florida State. I've always thought Wake was a better shooting team than their early season performance, but they're not as good as they've been recently. Duke is excellent at defending the perimeter, leading the conference in opponent's 3pt FG%. If Wake reverts to early season form, it will be a long afternoon for them.

Third is Chas McFarland. McFarland had a career game against Florida State (apparently getting socked in the face jump-started him a bit) - his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 boards. If he can continue to be a force inside for the Deacs, he can force Duke to double down and potentially open up the perimeter for some of Wake's shooters. But McFarland is the only inside threat Wake has - like Duke, the Deacs rely on slashing from the wing for most of their inside scoring. McFarland's ability to control the glass and score inside could provide a big boost to Wake Forest as they seek to knock off the Devils and improve their tournament resume.

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