Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
Two of the top defensive teams in the ACC meet in Winston-Salem Wednesday night, with #1 Duke (18-1, 5-0 ACC) visiting #4 Wake Forest (16-1, 3-1). While it’s also prudent to point out that these are also two of the conference’s best offensive teams, their play on the other end of the floor is what has pushed these two to the top of the league. Duke leads the ACC in scoring defense, holding opponents to 59.5 points per game. Wake Forest has done it in the field goal percentage defense category, limiting opponents to a league-best 36.8%. The Blue Devils and Demon Deacons are also the two best teams in the conference when it comes to defending the three-point line, with Wake leading the way (28.4%) and Duke right behind them (29.9%). Rest assured that every point in this game will be earned, and mental (and physical) toughness will determine who gets a leg up on the other in the ACC title race.
Duke’s offensive efficiency has improved in recent weeks due primarily to the play of junior swingman Gerald Henderson (14.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg). During the current ten-game winning streak Henderson has averaged just over eighteen points per game, nearly four more than his season average. He’s been far more aggressive within their system, and it has paid off for both he and the team. Assuming that he, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer are their usual selves, the onus for the Blue Devils will fall on point guard Nolan Smith and center Brian Zoubek. Zoubek will have to hold his own with the likes of Chas McFarland, Al-Farouq Aminu and Tony Woods inside in order for the Blue Devils to win this game. He doesn’t have to put up numbers like a Shaquille O’Neal; he just needs to be a presence on the glass when he’s in the game (Duke and Wake Forest are tied for third in rebounding margin at +7.5).
As for Smith, his individual matchup with Jeff Teague (21.5 ppg, 3.9 apg) will go a long way in determining the outcome. Like Zoubek, Smith (10.2 ppg, 2.0 apg) doesn’t have to be a world beater in regards to scoring but he’s got to make Teague work for everything he gets. And with Wake having a number of excellent perimeter players (Ish Smith, James Johnson and L.D. Williams come to mind), the opportunities to help Nolan may not always be there. Greg Paulus will come off the bench and provide help on the perimeter, as will Scheyer in his starter’s role. But to beat Wake you’ve got to slow down Teague, and that job will fall to Smith.
The Demon Deacons they come into this game still smarting from their last effort, a 78-71 home loss to Virginia Tech. They didn’t look 100% alert early on, resting on the laurels of their recently-awarded top ranking, and the Hokies jumped out to a 34-24 halftime lead as a result. But do not expect motivation to be a factor when it comes to playing Duke. Wake Forest will need a solid game from center Chas McFarland, who fouled out with zero points in just eleven minutes last Wednesday (but was huge in the UNC win). If he and Aminu can control the glass, the chances of a Wake victory improve exponentially. Their ability to threaten on the offensive end will also help relieve some of the pressure that Duke will place on their ball handlers for the full forty minutes.
The game of the week in college basketball, expect this to be a game that reaches the mid-70s and goes right down to the wire. Winston-Salem is a tough place to visit, especially when the name on the front of your jersey says “Duke”. And look for Jeff Teague to add another piece of evidence that he’s one of the best guards in America.
Winner: Wake Forest Margin: 1-4 pts.
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About Raphielle Johnson
College sports has always been a source of excitement for Raphielle Johnson, be it through watching, writing, or taking a shot in the dark and walking onto a college football team just to live the life (Arizona Football, 2001). Raphielle is the assistant editor, providing his own work in addition to helping out with the site operations. When not writing for CHN, you can usually find him in front of a television set watching one of many pay-per-view sports packages that he owns. He can be followed at twitter.com/raphiellej.
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