Preview & Prediction: By Blake Hofstad
There are three undefeated teams left in college basketball. That number will narrow on Saturday, as the battle of unbeatens goes down at Littlejohn Coliseum. #9 Clemson (16-0, 2-0) is still searching for national respect. They have not beaten any top 25 teams yet, but wins @Illinois and @Miami won’t hurt a resume. Meanwhile #3 Wake Forest (15-0, 2-0) is the talk of the land after defeating North Carolina. They squashed BYU’s home court winning streak as well this season.
The Deacons are off to the best start in school history, and much of it is due to the depth of the frontcourt. Super soph James Johnson and freshman Al-Farouq Aminu lead the way. Their numbers are almost identical, putting in 13 a game while snagging 8 boards a game. Each averages 1.5 blocks per contest as well. Johnson is a capable three-point shooter as well. Frontcourt mate Chas McFarland was outstanding against North Carolina. He scored 20 and grabbed 9 rebounds, 5 offensive against the team many still consider the best in the country. More importantly, he was delegated the tough task of guarding Tyler Hansbrough. Hansbrough’s 17 points in that game are deceiving, 11 of them came from the free throw line. McFarland’s defense is a big reason why Psycho T was only able to muster 3 field goals on 12 attempts. Tony Woods and David Weaver are capable backups who can spell McFarland, Johnson and Aminu when needed. The backcourt is also filled with depth. Jeff Teague has put himself at the top of the ACC Player of the Year conversation with huge games against UNC and Boston College. In the 5 games Wake Forest has not won by double digits, Teague’s scoring average is 27.6 points per game and he makes 66.7% of his three pointers. In a game that is sure to be close, expect Teague to step up in crunch time. His backcourt mate, LD Williams, is wildly inconsistent. During a stretch of 6 games at the tail end of November and almost all of December, Williams was not held under 10 points. Outside of those games, he has eclipsed 10 only once. If Williams can find the form he had in December, Wake Forest could go undefeated. The Deacons are not only deep in the frontcourt but in the backcourt as well. Shooter Harvey Hale pumps in 6.4 points a game from the bench. He struggled to find the shooting touch early on, but after a 17 point game against Wright State, he has somewhat got back on track. Two speedy point guards, Ishmael Smith and Gary Clark, are reliable backups. Smith gets almost 20 minutes a game, and is an extremely gifted passer. Clark is more of a slashing point guard.
Clemson was not expected to compete for the ACC title after the loss of their heart, James Mays, and soul, Cliff Hammonds. But they are on top of the basketball world right now. They are led by undersized power forward Trevor Booker. At 6-7, he can’t rely on height to get him rebounds, but still gets over 9 a game. He is a monster down low, scoring 15 a game and converting nearly 60% of his shots. He doesn’t step out often, but still has three point capabilities. Hybrid guard-forward KC Rivers helps him in the paint. Despite being one of the team’s primary ball handlers, Rivers is so versatile that he is second on the team in rebounding. Demontez Stitt is the point guard, and is basically a bread and butter guy. He shoots a good percentage, is right around 9 points and 4 assists per game and isn’t a bad three point shooter, but isn’t a great one. Terrence Oglesby is relied on for his shot, and it has been good. Oglesby is shooting 42% from downtown, however is shooting a lower percentage from the field. His game revolves around the three pointer, and that one dimension cannot be relied on every single game. Raymond Sykes, David Potter and Jerai Grant all provide frontcourt depth. Sykes is shooting nearly 60% from the field, Grant is at an absurd 80%. Potter is more of a KC Rivers style player, medium height at 6-6 and has adequate guard and forward skills. Another player in that mold for the Tigers is Tanner Smith, who will get solid minutes off the bench. Andre Young is a very good point guard coming off the bench. He plays a role similar to Ishmael Smith for the Deacons.
Clemson’s great start is no fluke and this team won’t go the way of the 2006-2007 squad, the team that started 17-0 and missed the Tournament. But the sheer depth of Wake’s roster will pay dividends and Teague’s killer instinct will take over in the case of a close game. Wake Forest will continue on its historic run en route to another marquee victory.
Winner: Wake Forest Margin: 5-8 points
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About Blake Hofstad
An avid sports fan, you can nearly always find Blake Hofstad playing, watching, writing or just talking sports. His favorite team is the Wisconsin Badgers, and he is a huge Big Ten and Missouri Valley fan. The two things he hates about college basketball are Duke and the love Duke gets from most media members. You can find more of Blake's work on Onlinesportsfanatic.com.