Thursday, January 18, 2007

Duke v Wake Preview

The Duke Blue Devils (14-3, 1-2 ACC) look to build on Sunday's convincing road win when they host Wake Forest (9-7, 1-3 ACC) tonight at 7 PM. Duke had its best offensive game of the season against Miami, scoring a very efficient 134 points per 100 possessions (100 is average). Jon Scheyer had his best game at Duke with 25 points including 4 of 6 from beyond the arc, and Greg Paulus turned in a solid scoring performance (15 pts, 3 of 6 3pt) and limited his turnovers (2), leading to an easy victory. Coach K's squad now looks to revenge its early ACC losses with an apparently easy slate of games
in the rest of January. Wake Forest's extremely young squad comes into the game following a six point loss at home to NC State on Saturday. The unusually long layoff between games might benefit the Deacons, who enjoy pushing the pace- their competition-adjusted tempo is 72.8 possessions per game, 25th in the nation. Compare this to Duke, who's half-court oriented offense generates just 66.1 possessions/game (223rd in nation).

At first glance this might seem an advantage for Wake Forest, considering that Georgia Tech dismantled the Blue Devil defense with a fast paced (73 possessions) game one week ago. However, pace is not the entire story when it comes to beating Duke. The Blue Devils played a similar pace against Kent State, and their opponents had similar offensive efficiencies (100.7 for GT, 98.9 for Kent State). The major difference in the game was the Duke offense-- an inefficient, poor-shooting team that was unable to get to the free throw line against Georgia Tech was the opposite against Kent State. What this means for Thursday night is that Wake Forest must limit Duke's field goal shooting and free throw rate in order for a fast pace to be effective.

Wake's defensive strength does seem to be its ability to keep the other team off the charity stripe (45th in nation in this category). Recently, however, Wake has had trouble keeping the fouls down as in losses to BC and VT. As for opponent field goal percentage, it appears that teams that shoot effectively (BC, NCSU, AF) have been very successful against the Deacons. There isn't a standout player on defense for Wake, and as a team they fail to come up with many steals or blocks and are simply average in rebounding.

On the offensive end, the story is 6-11 forward Kyle Visser, who is having a standout season as one of just two upperclassmen on Wake's roster. He's averaging 18.3 ppg, (the only player averaging double figures) and 8.3 rbg. An effective presence down low (63.4 eFG%), Visser has cracked the 25 point mark three times this season. However, the key to beating Wake is not in stopping Visser. In Wake's nine wins, he has averaged 17.1 ppg; in their seven losses, he has averaged 21.4 ppg. On an individual level, the key to stopping Wake's offense may be in limiting 5-11 freshman point guard Ishmael Smith. Smith has been a phenomenal assist man, converting on 42.4% of his possessions (4th in the nation). As the second highest scorer on the team, Smith puts up 10.9 points in Wake's wins, and just 6.4 in their losses. In addition, with the exception of an 11-assist performance against South Florida, some of Smith's worst games have come in Wake's losses. Surprisingly, to go along with his outstanding assist rate, his turnover rate is an awful 29.8% (20-25% is average for point guards... Greg Paulus is at 33.7%).

Elsewhere, there is little of note for the Demon Deacons. Freshman guard Anthony Gurley takes a lot of shots (he leads the team with 27% of Wake's shots when he's on the court), but doesn't convert on many of them (52% 2pt, 17% 3pt), and sophomore Harvey Hale is even worse in this regard. L.D. Williams and Michael Drum initiate some offense from the wing position, but they don't take nearly enough shots to make much difference in the game.

For those who enjoy the transitive property of basketball, consider: just five days after Air Force was downed by Duke 71-56, they then ran over the Deacons, 94-58. This highlights some of the qualities of Duke's defense that have been extraordinary this season, as well as the defensive futility for Wake Forest. Duke's offense should have another game to explore its new found efficiency, especially from beyond the arc. Expect everyone to get involved and if Duke is forced to run, Greg Paulus should have few problems feeding the scorers in transition. Duke once again needs to exploit its height advantage, and while Josh McRoberts and others should be able to contain Kyle Visser, this is not essential for victory. Jon Scheyer has quietly had a phenomenal season on defense for the Blue Devils with pressure on the perimeter, and if he continues this on Smith and the other Wake guards, this one could be over with a lot of time remaining. Duke, 80-55.

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