Beyond the Arc: Gameday Wake Forest

THE CONTENTS: No. 9 Duke hosts No. 8 Wake Forest at 7:45 p.m. Sunday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. You can see the game on FSN (I think with Brando and Gminski) and hear it on 620 AM (I know with Harris and Roth).

brittonTHE EXPOSITION: The Blue Devils (21-5, 7-4) are coming off an extremely unimpressive 76-69 non-conference win at St. John's.

The Demon Deacons (20-4, 7-4) have bounced back from a bad loss at N.C. State to win two in a row at home over Florida State and Georgia Tech.

Wake Forest somewhat memorably beat Duke earlier this season, 70-68, in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons haven't won at Cameron since they boasted Tim Duncan in 1997.

THE PROTAGONISTS: There's a few reasons I called Thursday's win over St. John's "extremely unimpressive." First, after the game at Boston College, Duke clearly should have learned that when it has a team down early, it has to knock them out. The Blue Devils didn't do that and didn't even knock the Red Storm out late. Instead, they were lucky it took St. John's that long to start its comeback--so long, in fact, that its two leading scorers were already fouled out.

Second, this was supposed to be a bounceback game for the Duke defense (largely because the St. John's offense leaves a little to be desired). Again instead, the Blue Devils allowed the Red Storm to shoot 54 percent from the floor, including 61 percent in the first half. Duke compensated for that by forcing 18 turnovers, but the Blue Devils are yielding far too many open looks (and open layups) these last three games.

Finally, although Elliot Williams played excellently in his first real start of the season (UNC-Asheville doesn't count), Duke has a huge issue at point guard, and the solution is not to ignore it. Fact is, you can't win a regional, let alone a championship, with Jon Scheyer as your point guard. Scheyer did perform well as a playmaker at the Garden, but I just don't think adding the responsibility of running the offense is going to get him out of his shooting slump (or is going to help you handle other teams' pressure defense). Either Nolan Smith or Greg Paulus (maybe Jordan Davidson? Kidding.) has to step up real fast.

THE ANTAGONISTS: I was watching the UNC-Maryland game yesterday (P.S. wasn't that nice?), when ABC threw up a graphic containing the following info:

Bottom Six Teams in the ACC to Knock off a Top-10 Team:

VT def. Wake Forest

Maryland def. ???

Miami def. Wake Forest

N.C. State def. Wake Forest

Virginia def. Clemson

Georgia Tech def. Wake Forest

I'm sensing a trend. The Demon Deacons' four conference losses have all come against the bottom part of the league in games they definitively should have won (or in the Miami case, at least should have been closer than 27). Three of them also happened on the road. This reveals two things:

1) Wake Forest plays down to its competition.

2) Wake Forest plays poorly on the road.

The first doesn't really apply tonight; regardless how Duke is playing, an ACC team will never "play down" to the Blue Devils. The second is more significant. The Demon Deacons have won at Clemson, Boston College and BYU this season (the last one snapping the Cougars' 50-plus game home winning streak, which was best in the nation at the time). But Wake has also lost its last three road contests at Georgia Tech, Miami and N.C. State.

So, which Wake team shows up tonight?

THE CONFLICT: To reiterate, so, which Wake team shows up tonight? Also, have the Blue Devils deciphered a better way to handle the Demon Deacons' packline defense (in which they don't pressure passes in order to help better inside)?

WHAT THE LOCAL MEDIA ARE SAYING: From Dan Collins at the Winston-Salem Journal:

Wake Forest has won five of the past six games against Duke in Joel Coliseum, but has lost 10 straight at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The average margin of victory in the 10 games has been 21.2 points, with the first two by 31 points each. The closest loss was a 102-92 setback in Chris Paul's sophomore season of 2004-05.

But none of the past three Wake Forest teams that have visited Cameron Indoor Stadium were anywhere close to as good and as accomplished as the team that will play Duke tonight. Gaudio said he has plenty to be happy about.

And Ken Tysiac of the News & Observer breaks down the pros and cons of Duke's new starting five, with some historical perspective.

ANY MORE TRASH TALK FOR THE OLD GOLD AND BLACK?: I think this guy did enough for me.

THE DENOUEMENT: A few things this game comes down to:

1) Can the Blue Devils hit their threes? Duke shoots much better at home (I forget the exact statistics, but it's something like eight percent better at home than on the road from beyond the arc), and it's reasonable to expect the Blue Devils to do better than the 4-of-22 they mustered at Wake. This is especially important because a few early long balls will open up the Demon Deacon defense for drives by Henderson and, perhaps, Elliot Williams.

2) How does Duke defend the post? Brian Zoubek hasn't been the same since he was dominated by Wake in January, and I don't expect to see much of him tonight. So, can the quintet of Lance Thomas, Miles Plumlee, Kyle Singler, David McClure and Gerald Henderson handle the trio of Aminu, Johnson and McFarland inside? They did a fair job last game (although Aminu was outstanding and Johnson had, well, a big shot), but the Blue Devils' new lineup puts an even greater emphasis on switching all screens on the perimeter. That means there will be a multitude of times when it's Scheyer or Williams on a big, and I'm much less comfortable with that. Let's see if and how Duke adjusts if Wake tries to take advantage of those mismatches early (as it should).

3) Can Duke hold a team under 50 percent field goal shooting? This has a lot to do with the last sentence from above. Wake leads the conference in field goal shooting; the Blue Devils have given up astronomical percentages lately. Now would be a good time to revert to early-season form.

4) How does Wake handle the road environment? The Demon Deacons have struggled away from Joel Coliseum lately, and for many of their best players, this will be their first trip to Cameron (Wake didn't visit Durham last season, so Teague, Johnson and Aminu have never played here, and Ishmael Smith had one of the worst games of his career last time the Deacs visited, a 62-40 loss in 2007). This may be the biggest key; I think there will be times when Wake gets rattled and starts to turn the ball over, leading to some easy buckets for Duke.

All in all, this is the toughest game to pick so far this season. And it's the first where I'm resorting to this reasoning: Duke has the added experience, and the environment at Cameron can make up for the team's disadvantages. The Blue Devils lost by two at Wake without playing well, I think they can win at home if they make just a few more plays.

THE VERDICT: Duke 72-69.


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