After an eight-day reprieve, No. 4 Duke gets back in action Wednesday night, as the Blue Devils travel to Winston-Salem, N.C. to take on Wake Forest at Lawrence-Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum at 7 p.m.
Duke emerged from five games in 11 days in relatively good shape, posting a 4-1 record that included emotional wins against Maryland and Syracuse and a disappointing second-half performance against North Carolina. Following last Tuesday’s win against Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils (23-6, 12-4 in the ACC) did something they hadn't done in a while—rest.
"Those games are very emotional. They're not only physically draining, but emotionally and mentally draining," Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel said of Duke's slate against Maryland, North Carolina and Syracuse. "It was nice to have a chance to refresh and regroup.... Just as important, we were able to spend a couple of days on us, trying to fix some of the things that we need to do."
Duke spent most of Friday and Saturday's practices reviewing and sharpening the tools it will need down the stretch. Two items on the agenda included a review of the team's man-to-man offense and shooting, a strong suit that hasn't been as reliable of late. Capel said the Blue Devils did not fully turn their attention to Wake Forest until Monday.
"The last two games we played, Syracuse and Virginia Tech, both teams played all zone," Capel said. "[We wanted to] get a refresher on our man stuff, some ways we want to attack against man-to-man defenses. We know we aren't going to play against all zone against Wake Forest, they're going to play some zone but they play man-to-man [as well]."
When the teams met Feb. 4 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Wake Forest (15-14, 5-11) was without the services of Codi Miller-McIntyre, its leading scorer and distributor at 13.3 points and 3.9 assists per game. The loss of the sophomore’s play-making ability was a big blow to the Demon Deacons, who fizzled on offense throughout Duke’s 83-63 victory.
“The way Duke pressures, you need to have people who can just rip it and drive it,” Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “Codi gives us another player out there who can do that and space the court. You have to be able to make plays. If you miss your primary play-maker against one of the best teams in the nation… that’s not good, and to have him gives us another dimension.”
Even without Miller-McIntyre, the Demon Deacons hung close for much of the opening period in the first game. Wake Forest held a 28-26 edge with 6:52 remaining in the first half before the Blue Devils took control. By the 2:35 mark, Duke led 38-28, thanks to five consecutive Demon Deacon turnovers. From there, the rout was on for good.
The Duke coaching staff will have to tweak the game plan to account for Miller-McIntyre's ability to drive the ball and create for others.
"He's probably their best driver, their most explosive offensive guard," Capel said. "It gives them another ball-handler, another penetrator. It's something we've got to account for.... One of the things they did last time was drive us, especially their post guys. We have to do a good job of fighting and not giving up angles into the post."
On-ball pressure was a strength for the Blue Devils during their five-game gauntlet, led by the tenacity of sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon. Duke forced its opponent into double-digit turnovers in four of those five contests, accumulating 63 overall. After wreaking havoc on the Wake Forest offense with 19 takeaways in their last matchup, the Blue Devils will look to dial up the aggressive defense once again Wednesday night.
"We're going to play man, and we're going to pressure," Capel said. "That's what gives us the best chance to be successful."
Miller-McIntyre has not missed a game since he sat out against Duke, but his return to the lineup hasn't provided the Demon Deacons with much of a spark. Wake Forest has dropped eight of its last nine games, including a 33-point defeat at the hands of North Carolina.
But with a healthy Miller-McIntyre and other dangerous weapons in forwards Devin Thomas and Travis McKie, the Demon Deacons are no pushover, especially at home, where Wake Forest beat the Tar Heels Jan. 5. Thirteen of Wake Forest's 15 wins this season have come within the friendly confines of Lawrence-Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"They have a lot more energy. Obviously, they're a lot more confident [at home]," Capel said. "We've been pretty good on the road recently, so hopefully we can do a good job [Wednesday]."