As the new semester begins, one thing remains the same—looks can be deceiving.
In its first two games of the new year, Duke learned that lesson loud and clear. A slow first half against unranked Miami, followed by a matchup against then 7-7 Georgia Tech in which late-game heroics were needed to win the game made it apparent that each night is different from the last, and the past is virtually null and void after tip. Duke’s upcoming contest Saturday night at 8 p.m. against Wake Forest will prove no different.
The second-ranked Blue Devils will return to Cameron Indoor Stadium for an ACC battle against the Demon Deacons who, despite owning a subpar 8-6 record, have had some bright spots in their season to indicate that they will be no walk in the park for Duke.
“You’d always love to win by 30 or whatever it is, but winning in those close games is another dose of reality," point guard Tre Jones said Friday. "It doesn’t mean that teams aren’t good and teams aren’t going to keep trying to give us their best shot. So, it was good to win a tough, contested game [against Georgia Tech] for sure, because those are the games we’re going to have to win if we want to achieve what we want to do.”
Wake Forest (8-6, 1-3 in the ACC) has proven itself to be a pesky opponent, even for the toughest teams in the ACC. Just last Wednesday, the Demon Deacons gave No. 10 Florida State a run for its money, losing the game by just 10 points. Before the Christmas break, then-No. 23 Xavier left Winston-Salem with a two-point loss. The last time Wake Forest traveled to Cameron, a last-minute turnover gave the Demon Deacons an opportunity to come out victorious against then-No. 4 Duke. However, the game ended in a one-point survival win for the Blue Devils.
Wake Forest’s workhorse in these battles has been Brandon Childress, who leads the team in points, assists and steals. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski will most likely look to defensive dynamite Jones to slow Childress down, a task that Jones has readily accepted time and time again thus far in the season.
Freshman Cassius Stanley might also need to bring his defensive efforts to the forefront—that isn’t to say the Los Angeles, Calif., native lacks hustle on any given night. With defensive-minded wing Wendell Moore out with a broken hand, Stanley could be responsible for guarding six-foot-five Wake Forest slasher Chaundee Brown. Brown, who missed the team’s Florida State matchup due to “load management”, is set to play against the Blue Devils, in hopes of repeating his performance against North Carolina A&T, in which he dropped a 25-point double-double. Stanley has the skills to stay in front of Brown, but if he gets into foul trouble early, Brown could be Wake Forest’s best hope of upsetting Duke.
“Wake is a really good offensive team," senior forward Javin DeLaurier said Friday. "They really do a good job of getting out in transition as well, so we’re going to have to do a good job of trying to take up space, eliminate some driving lanes for those perimeter guys you’re talking about and really point and communicate and make sure we have all of our assignments.”
What has really plagued the Demon Deacons this season is ball security. Wake Forest’s 14.7 turnovers per game puits the team at 255th in the country, which bodes well for the high-flying, cookie-hungry Blue Devils. Duke (14-1, 4-0) ranks 30th in the nation in forced turnovers, which has ignited its offense, as the team thrives in fast break opportunities.
“[Duke is] an elite—probably the best transition offensive team in the country,” Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner said after his team’s Wednesday night loss to Duke. “I don’t think anyone is better than [the Blue Devils] in how fast they are in transition offense.”
With Stanley continually racing up and down the court and Jones wide-eyed for lob opportunities or simply beautiful bounce passes leading to dunks, Wake Forest needs to take care of the ball in order to limit Duke’s offensive opportunities.
Still, any ACC matchup is bound to be tough. Despite the conference being weaker than expected, the talent around the ACC still provides physicality and coaching experience good enough to catch Duke slipping on its off night. If the Blue Devils can recognize this early, they will have a good chance to come away victorious Saturday.
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