Clemson vs. Wake Forest
When: Friday, 12/2 - 7pm
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum - Clemson, SC
TV: RSN (Bally Sports South) / ACCNX (out-of-market)
Clemson basketball is coming off a thrilling double-OT win over Penn State and look to keep the momentum rolling as they play host ACC-opener against Wake Forest. Wake Forest is 7-1 coming off a big win at Wisconsin. To preview the big ACC matchup, we connected with Robert Reinhard, a friend of the blog, for some insight into his beloved Demon Deacons. You can follow Robert on Twitter here. We hope you enjoy the discussion.
Ryan Kantor: Wake Forest has showed rapid improvement since bringing in Coach Forbes for the 2019-20 season. Last year they went 23-8 (13-7) and earned a 5-seed in the ACC tournament before an early exit left them on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble. KenPom ranked them 35th nationally at the end of the year. This year, KenPom only ranks Wake Forest 69th. What are the expectations for the season as we now enter ACC play?
Robert Reinhard: I don’t know exactly what my expectations are for the rest of the season, but I definitely wouldn’t rule out making the NCAA Tournament at this point. Last year we were 35th in KenPom, but we were better in advanced metrics than we were in terms of a conventional NCAA Tournament resume. Part of that was our non-conference strength of schedule was nearly the easiest in the entire country. I do not blame us whatsoever for that because we needed to get wins to help build the program, and had no idea we were going to land ACC Player of the Year Alondes Williams and 1st Round NBA Draft pick Jake LaRavia at the time we made the schedule.
This year we’ve gone out of our way to make the non-conference schedule much more respectable. We won a home game against Georgia earlier this year and won at Wisconsin on Tuesday night. In addition to our 20 ACC games, we have a road game at Rutgers as well as a non-conference game coming up with LSU. Tough stretch, to be sure, but the potential is there to earn some quality non-conference victories in the event that there’s the continued narrative of the ACC being very down. KenPom currently projects us to go 18-13 overall, including 9-11 in ACC play, while Bart Torvik is a bit more optimistic at 19-12, 10-10. That might get it done, but it will really come down to if Wake is able to get a few signature wins as part of that 10.
Outside of just the mathematics of it all, I’m encouraged that Wake will continue to develop as the season progresses. In addition to a team that is transfer-heavy and continuing to gel, I believe we have a lot of pieces that have made noticeable strides since the beginning of the season. Wake’s biggest question mark headed into the season was at center, and Matthew Marsh, a 7’1”, 250 pound sophomore has gone from barely playing in the first 5 games of the year, to averaging 10 points and 6 rebounds over his past 3 games, including 8 points and 9 rebounds against Wisconsin. He’s just one of a number of freshmen and sophomores who are on our roster and in our rotation, who should only get better.
Ryan: Alodes Williams led the Deacs in scoring with an excellent 18.5 points per game last season. He’s off to the NBA, but Wake Forest was able to dip into the transfer portal and add Tyree Appleby from Florida who now leads the team in scoring with 19.6 points per game. Is he the key player for Clemson fans to know? Tell us what to expect from him as well as any other key players we should know about before tip off.
Robert: Tyree is definitely the key player to know. He’s the best player on our team, and is one of the better players in the league. He’s an incredibly quick player who can get to the rim, but is also a very reliable shooter. Not only that, but he’s a terrific passer who can create open looks for his teammates.
Wake is a team that plays with a lot of balance and will probably play 9 or 10 different players in most games, but another player I’ll point out is sophomore Cameron Hildreth. He’s been a welcomed surprise so far this season. He definitely had his moments last year, but he averaged just 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist. It’s very early on, but so far this season he’s averaging 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. Several games ago he recorded a triple-double, which was only the third in program history. He’s a crafty player who is just 6’4”, but finds himself driving the lane and then using his footwork to create scoring opportunities around the basket.
Ryan: This contest is in Clemson and KenPom gives Clemson a two-in-three chance to win the game. What’s your assessment of those odds? What is the one X-factor that Wake Forest needs to go their way to earn the ACC road win.
Robert: That seems like a pretty reasonable projection. These are two quality teams that are fairly evenly matched, but Clemson will have the home court advantage and has also been in Clemson, while Wake will have to travel down to South Carolina having played at Wisconsin on Tuesday night. I think a critical thing to watch on Friday night is going to be how well Clemson shoots the 3. The Tigers are currently 20th nationally in 3 point FG% led by the trio of Hunter, Tyson, and Hemenway. They’re all very good shooters historically, but I’d expect some slight regression, especially from Chase Hunter, who is currently shooting 58% and has never shot better than 35%. On the flip side, Wake is 338th nationally in terms of % of FG attempts they allow that are 3-pointers. In other woods, opponents shoot a lot of 3’s against the Deacs. They do allow opponents to shoot just 32% from outside, but historically speaking the top indicator of 3 PT defense is limiting 3-point attempts and not just contesting them better.
I think there’s a very similar story to watch when Wake is on the offensive end. The Deacs have a number of talented shooters in Appleby, Monsanto, and Williamson, and Clemson is 286th nationally in allowing 3-point attempts, so I’d imagine that Wake will be able to get up plenty of decent looks from the outside. I would imagine that whichever team can better take advantage of those good looks from the perimeter will win the game.
Clemson has absolutely had Wake’s number over the past decade or so. If Wake is going to come back to Winston-Salem with a victory, they’re going to have to hold their own in terms of the outside shooting battle, and they’re also going to have to limit the number of offensive rebounds that Clemson is able to get. I look forward to watching us compete.