Sunday night, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (20-4, 7-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) visit Cameron Indoor Stadium to play the return trip of the conference home-and-home match up. The last time these teams met, the Demon Deacons gave the then No. 1 ranked Blue Devils (21-5, 7-4 ACC) their first conference loss on a James Johnson basket with .8 seconds remaining.
Both teams have matching 7-4 in conference records, which places them both squarely in the four-way logjam for second place, along with Florida St. and Clemson. A win here for either team would move them, at least briefly, alone in second place at 8-4.
The game also has NCAA Tournament seeding consequences. Wake Forest and Duke both know they’ll be dancing in March, but where and what seed is still up for debate.
Conventional wisdom has North Carolina as a number one seed and playing first-round games in Greensboro, where there is only room for one other highly seeded, probably local team. The winner of this game will have the inside track to play in Greensboro, a mere bus ride away, while the loser can likely begin to plan for an NCAA first round game in Philadelphia.
The game Wake Forest and Duke played in January has seemingly marked a high point in the season for both teams. The Blue Devils are 2-4 in ACC play after going into that contest 5-0. The Deacons have also run into tough times, going 2-3 in ACC play since they beat the Blue Devils in Winston-Salem. Both Duke and Wake Forest are. at their core, defensive teams that win more consistently when holding opponents under one point per possession. Since they last met, both teams aren’t performing up to their previous standards of efficiency at the defensive end of the court:
It would be obvious to say the team that gets its defense on track will come out victorious, to determine which team will do that we’ll have to take a deeper look at the statistics. The last time these teams met Wake Forest shot slightly better, forced Duke into more turnovers, and got to the free throw line more often to outweigh only rebounding 25 percent of their own misses (OR) while Duke posted a 32 OR.
In ACC play, the Blue Devils are doing a better job holding onto the ball (17.5 TORate) and forcing opponents into turnovers (24.4 TORate) than the Deacons (19.7 and 20 respectively). They also do a better job cleaning up their own misses (39 OR) than the Deacons (33 OR).
The Demon Deacons use opponents' turnovers to key their fast break and improve their own offensive efficiency; however, the Blue Devils are a difficult team to expect turnovers from, which could cause Wake Forest problems. In terms of Xs and Os, the Deacons’ best defensive tactic, a packed-in zone defense, seemingly plays right into the hands of the Blue Devils, a team without a post threat that spreads the floor, passes the ball well, and at all times has four guys on the floor who can hit a 3-pointer.
The Blue Devils’ chances will be improved if they do a good job holding onto the ball. Not only will this give them more chances on offense, but it will force Wake Forest to play offense in the half court instead of getting easy transition baskets. Duke’s chances are even more closely tied to their shooting percentage. The Blue Devils will be taking a lot of jump shots over the Wake zone, and if those shots fall, they will win.
For Wake Forest to win they need to force turnovers. Doing so will get them easy baskets, and end Duke’s possessions before they have a chance to hit 3 pointers. As the Devils’ past several ACC opponents have shown, they have some trouble guarding quicker, scoring point guards. Jeff Teague fits that mold, and if the Deacon offense struggles expect them to allow Teague to drive the lane, much like Lawson and Rice have in recent games against Duke.