Where: Wake Forest’s Joel Coliseum
When: Wednesday, 4:30PM
Clemson returned to practice this past Saturday after the second COVID-19 related pause of the season. We all know how badly the first pause affected the team, and fans can only hope the lessons learned then will make this return a lot more successful. Clemson is firmly in the NCAA field as of now, and only a late season collapse could jeopardize it. The dangers are there because the remaining schedule features teams either on the wrong side of the bubble or completely out of consideration for an at-large bid. So far, Clemson’s only losses have been of the Quad 1 variety, and even though all but one were ugly, those losses can be survived. The Tigers don’t have enough money in the bank, so to speak, to drop 3 of 4 now the way they did back in January. Clemson hasn’t had to play on the road very often, but it hasn’t been great when they have (1-4 record). Wake Forest comes into this game at just 6-11 overall and 3-11 in the ACC, so it would be a harmful loss to drop this one no matter what the extenuating circumstances happen to be.
This is a crazy year for basketball and sports in general. We’ve seen historical powerhouses Kentucky, UNC, Michigan State, and Duke struggle overall. The ACC is about as wide open as it has ever been, where even a top of the league team like Florida State had to escape an O.T. scare at home to these Demon Deacons just over a week ago. Miami had Virginia Tech on the ropes twice. There is enough talent on most every ACC roster to spring an upset if you don’t play at least pretty well.
Wake Forest kicked Danny Manning to the curb and hired Steve Forbes from East Tennessee State. Forbes was part of Bruce Pearl’s infamous Tennessee regime but recovered from that to have great success at ETSU. Wake has been adrift since the untimely passing of Skip Prosser. Subsequent hires have all failed to come close to what Prosser and Dave Odom accomplished. Wake has seen the roster fluctuation you might expect following a coaching change and feature four transfer players on their roster. Guys like Clemson legacy Sharone Wright, Jr. have left the program, as well as former star center Olivier Sarr who now starts for Kentucky. Manning’s program was undone by poor defense and Forbes has only been able to marginally improve that in year one. The only thing Wake does relatively well is shoot the three, which they do at a respectable 35.6% clip. As long as Clemson defends as they normally do, Wake should have a hard time dealing with the pressure. Clemson should also be able to operate on the offensive end a lot more easily than against teams like GT, Syracuse, and UNC who are all vastly superior defensively to Wake.
Wake put up a great fight at FSU and it took some big FSU plays for the Noles to pull that one out, but since then the Deacons have lost big to Duke and NCSU. Clemson needs to try to put Wake in a hole early and not give them any hope they can rebound in this game. Most of Clemson’s problem games have seen the opponent get off to a very hot start. The Tigers have had to rally from a deficit in the second half several times this season, none bigger than the crazy victory over GT the last time out. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how the team gets there as long as it gets there. We don’ t know which players were hit with the COVID-19 and won’t know who might be limited or even out for this one until the day of the game. Luckily, Clemson does have depth and should be able to function. Only losing Aamir Simms would seem like a super heavy blow.
Ordinarily I would be very confident in the Tigers, but when you mix the road venue and the COVID pause uncertainty, it certainly feels very iffy at this writing. I’ll be cautiously optimistic and say Clemson pulls this out 65-63.