Our friend, Robert Reinhard, editor for the Wake Forest SB Nation site Blogger So Dear joins us today to discuss Tuesday’s Clemson vs. Wake Forest rematch in Littlejohn Coliseum. The Tigers has a furious rally, led by Marquise Reed, to steal a win in Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum to start ACC play. The Deacons have a great chance to make the NCAA tournament, but will need to earn some revenge in Clemson if they plan on dancing.
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After Clemson beat Wake Forest to begin ACC play, the Deacons have gone 6-6 while the Tigers just 2-9. The Deacons have passed Clemson in KenPom as well as the ACC standings.
That said, Wake Forest has faced as soft of an ACC schedule as you could imagine. They have no KenPom Adjusted Top 50 wins in conference with two wins coming against a bad NC State team, two wins against a bad Boston College team, and a pair of somewhat impressive victories against Miami and Georgia Tech. With all that said, there are five games left and a few chances for marquee wins. What does Wake need to do to make the NCAA tournament?
Wake is definitely an interesting team. They have very good metrics (currently 31st in Ken Pom), but have an overall record of just 15-10, including 6-7 in ACC play.
Wake's biggest weakness is definitely the lack of a marquee win. Wake has definitely played its share of excellent opponents, but a lot of the opportunities for big wins have come on the road. Wake has played a neutral site game against Villanova and road games against Northwestern, Xavier, Florida State, Virginia, and Notre Dame. The majority of those are also top 20 teams, which is why I take a lot of issue with the top 50 wins metric. Clearly not all are created equal. While Wake lacks the great win, they also don't have a bad loss. Wake's "worst" loss on Ken Pom is either a home loss to Clemson, or a road loss to Syracuse. That should matter.
I see Wake having essentially three paths to the NCAA Tournament. In all scenarios Wake Forest must beat Pittsburgh at home, which would bring the Deacs to 7 ACC wins. If Wake can do that, and then find a way to beat either Louisville at home or Duke on the road, that would bring them to 8 ACC wins, including a win that would be as good as almost any "best win" among bubble teams. That leaves two toss up road games against Clemson and Virginia Tech, respectively. If Wake can also win one of those, that brings Wake to 9-9 in ACC play, and should definitely get them in.
I also think that Wake can get in if they beat Clemson, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech. It does not give Wake Forest a marquee win, but that would give Wake Forest 9 ACC wins, including 4 on the road. A final, though seemingly less likely path involves beating Pittsburgh, and then just one of Clemson and Virginia Tech. That would give Wake an 8-10 record in a loaded conference. I believe Wake would then have to win at least one game, and probably two games, in the ACC Tournament.
John Collins has emerged as one of the better players in America's best basketball conference. Averaging over 18ppg and 9rpg, he is not only an efficient scorer (120.1 Ortg), but an elite rebounder. He is also 10th in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Could you elaborate on his game for those of us who haven't watched much Wake Forest basketball?
John Collins is just awesome. You mentioned his stats, and he's currently third in Ken Pomeroy's ACC Player of the Year rankings. He most definitely deserves to be 1st team All-ACC. He operates primarily out of the low post, and has a variety of post moves and nice touch around the basket. He is also capable of stepping out to the short corner and knocking down those jumpers. He's also a very good athlete, so he can beat opposing bigs down the court for secondary transition opportunities, and can also finish above the rim. He routinely attacks the glass, and has also become a much better shot blocker.
The Deacon's defense has been their weaker half. Are there are specific weaknesses that you expect Clemson to try to exploit?
I would say that your best success will come if you can get Wake in pick-and-roll situations. I don't think that we defend it very well, and we end up in scramble mode and that often leads to open looks for opposing teams.
Another advantage for Clemson will be at the 3 and 4 positions. Jaron Blossomgame and Donte Grantham will have an athletic advantage against both Austin Arians and Dinos Mitoglou. If Clemson is able to get our defenders spread out, this should lead to a number of driving opportunities for Blossomgame and Grantham. Because of this, I would not be surprised to see Wake play some zone in this contest.
What one thing has to go right for the Deacons if they are to win this game?
Wake has to communicate on defense. Wake's offense is top 10 nationally in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency, and offense is typically a constant. Where Wake has had trouble in these games is coming up with enough stops. Wake certainly put up enough points (and points per possession) to beat Duke, Notre Dame, Syracuse, and North Carolina, but could not get enough consistent stops. If Wake can play with the same defensive effort and execution that they did against NC State on Saturday, then this team will be very difficult to beat.
What are you most concerned can go wrong for the Deacs that would lead to a Clemson win?
My biggest concern is that John Collins could get into early foul trouble. He's been doing a much better job of staying out of foul trouble as of late, but our offensive efficiency really drops when he is on the bench. If he's on the bench, I think Clemson's chances greatly improve. Outside of foul trouble, I will say taking care of the ball. Wake Forest is pretty good at limiting turnovers, but Clemson forces turnovers on more than 21% of opponent possessions. If they can force Wake Forest turnovers, not only does that limit Wake's opportunities, but it can also lead to easy buckets for the Tigers.
Finally, do you have a prediction on who will win this game?
Call me a homer, but I'll take Wake Forest to win this one 73-70. I acknowledge that Clemson is favored on Ken Pom, and will likely be favored in Vegas, but I believe that Wake is the better team, and will find a way to win despite playing on the road.
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