When: Saturday, 2pm
Where: Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum, Winston-Salem, NC
TV: ACC Network (local listings)
The Clemson Tigers head to Winson-Salem seeking their third-straight and 19th overall win. The Tigers are coming off their first win over UNC since 2010, a victory that puts them firmly in contention for a top four seed in the ACC tournament. Wake Forest, conversely, enters at just 9-13, though they’re coming off a big win over FSU.
Danny Manning is in his fourth year at Wake Forest. There was a good bit of excitement when he came to town and it seemed like he broke through last year as the Deacs won 19 games and earned a berth to a First Four game. With both of the Deacons key post-players, John Collins and Dino Mitoglou, departing they’ve taken a step back. How do you explain the regression in year four?
I’ll take the cheap way out and say that it’s the combination of a lot of things. This team with Collins and Mitoglou easily makes the NCAA Tournament. That turnover was difficult to predict, as it wasn’t an obvious situation of a one-and-done type player. Mitoglou even left in the middle of the summer, and Wake only had but so much time to make an adjustment to the roster. Manning did his best by bringing in grad transfer Terrence Thompson.
Part of the difficulty has also been the schedule, though the team is only 89th in Ken Pom. Wake has gotten slightly better defensively, but has gone from an elite offense (7th), to just fairly good (75th). But Wake’s ACC schedule so far has inculded Duke (2x), at UNC, UVA, at Louisville, at BC, and at NC State. That’s a difficult schedule for any team, and those aren’t easy games to win. The guard play also hasn’t been what was expected. I think fans, myself included, didn’t realize exactly how much better John Collins and Dinos Mitoglou made the guards. They drew so much attention down low, and when Wake needed a bucket, they could rely on going to one of those two bigs in the post.
Wake will be an interesting team to watch over the second half of the ACC season, as the guards have improved, the schedule will be considerably easier, and freshmen Chaundee Brown and Olivier Sarr really seem to be coming into their own.
As with the rest of the ACC, Wake is dangerous at home, where they beat Syracuse and Florida State. What strengths will the Deacons look to leverage to defend Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum?
I expect Wake to look to get the ball inside to Doral Moore on a regular basis. He’s taken a giant step forward this year, and has turned into one of the best big men in the ACC. The junior center is averaging 10 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game, all while shooting more than 70% from the field. Clemson blocks a lot of shots, thanks to great team length/size at all positions, but Doral will be the biggest player on the court by at least 4 inches. The Deacs also need Keyshawn Woods and Brandon Childress to keep their hot shooting alive, and knock down perimeter shots to get the crowd into it.
6’3” junior guard Bryant Crawford leads Wake Forest in points, assists, and steals. What does he bring to the game and how will Danny Manning look to use Crawford on Saturday?
Crawford is a high variance player. He can make absolutely spectacular plays, and is a gifted passer/lobber out of the pick-and-roll, but can also make some head scratching turnovers. He can also leave a lot to be desired at times in terms of individual defense, but also has great hands and can pick pockets and then take it coast-to-coast. He had a very good game against Florida State, and when he’s on, he can be one of the better point guards in the ACC. I’m hoping to see him attack the rim on Saturday and get Elijah Thomas in foul trouble.
What matchups or weaknesses do you anticipate Brad Brownell’s Tigers will try to exploit?
I think the biggest thing here is that Clemson will look to shoot the 3 ball a fair amount in this contest. While Clemson only shoots a modest amount of 3PA/FGA, they knock them down at a 38% clip. Wake, on the other hand, routinely gives up open looks from deep, and opponents are making 39% of their threes (320th nationally) as a result. Wake’s defensive pressure was better against Florida State, but will need to continue that intensity if Wake is going to turn things around in the 2nd half of the ACC schedule.
Lastly, do you view this down year as a blip on the radar, a coaching staff issue, or the result of broader structural challenge Wake Forest faces in competing against the other Tobacco Road schools?
I hope that it’s just a down year. You never know what happens with early entrants/general turnover, but next year Wake Forest should return Bryant Crawford, Keyshawn Woods, Brandon Childress, Chaundee Brown (former 5-star recruit who has scored 17 ppg over the past 3 games), Olivier Sarr (4-star prospect who is projected as a 1st round pick in 2019), and Doral Moore. In addition to that, they’ll add a top 15 recruiting class that features 5-star small forward Jaylen Hoard, and 4-star forward Isaiah Mucius. Theoretically, the Deacs should be back in the NCAA Tournament next year, and that would be 2 NCAA Tournament appearances in 3 seasons, and an upward trend.
So there you have it. Wake Forest may be better than their record would indicate as their ACC schedule has been tough and they begin to find their footing without their two major departures from last season. KenPom gives Clemson a solid 67% chance to pick up the road win. Tune in to watch the Tigers as they continue what may be one of the best seasons in school history.