The Demon Deacons were flying high at one point this season.
After finishing last year with the NIT Championship and running off a string of
11 victories, Wake was ranked in the top 5 and looked like they were ready to
challenge for the ACC championship. Much of the buzz around the Deacons came
after their 84-53 pummeling of Kansas that left Roy Williams and the Jayhawk
fans feeling as if they had just played a second-round NCAA tournament game. The
loss was the biggest margin of defeat that Williams had ever experienced at
Kansas and the nationally televised broadcast was the only matchup of ranked
teams that evening. Every college basketball fan in America got to watch as the
Demon Deacons shot 68% in the second half to humiliate their opponent.
Everything looked fine for the Deacs as the ACC season opened
and Dave OdomÂs squad handed Virginia their first loss of the season. But then
Wake made a trip into Chapel Hill for their annual Dean Dome loss (theyÂre
1-15 at the Dome). They encountered a red-hot Tar Heel team and an inspired
Brendan Haywood who turned in a 24 point, 10 rebound performance to power the
Heels to a one point victory. Still, despite shooting a season low 37%, Wake
played well and was in a position to win the game after taking the lead with 17
seconds left to play. However, on the ensuing possession Wake blocked Jason
CapelÂs field goal attempt and, as Darius Songaila spun around looking like a
guy who had just misplaced his car keys, the ball bounced into HaywoodÂs
hands. The Tar Heel center, who had taken a great deal of heat for his 0-point
performance against Georgia Tech, flushed the ball home to give the Heels the
Since that time the Deacons have lost that lovinÂ feelinÂ.
After handing Florida State a 23-point loss the Deacs have gone 1-2 with the
lone win being a tight 8-point, home victory over an undermanned and undersized
Clemson team. The two losses were road games to Georgia Tech and Maryland and
while neither game was a blowout (6 points and 10 points) the big concern for
Wake fans is the way the team is playing. Wake has gone from being a cohesive
squad to a team that appears to be making poor decisions and struggling with
Confidence is not something that Duke is lacking at the
moment. Following their late-game swoon against Stanford, the Devils have reeled
off 7 straight victories and, with the exception of the NC State game, none of
those wins has been closer than 20 points. The last of those victories was
Saturday afternoon at Georgia Tech where the teamÂs unselfish play was
reflected in their 22 assists on 30 field goals. The game against Wake marks the
start of a brutal stretch of the Duke schedule, followed by games with Maryland
and UNC. For the Devils to win a 5th straight regular season crown
theyÂll need to play their best ball so far this season in this stretch.
If you were to draw up a prototype team to give Duke a tough
game you would come pretty close to the Demon Deacons. Depth, defense, good
shooting, and a strong frontcourt are the key components to the Wake Forest
team. The cornerstone of that strong frontcourt would be junior Darius Songaila
(6-9/245). Songiala is a very strong player who has surprising quickness and a
soft shooting touch. By the way, he just picked up his first foul.
People outside of the ACC may not know much about Songaila who
is originally from Lithuania and spent a year at a New England prep school
before coming to Winston-Salem. However after spending the summer playing with
the Lithuanian Olympic team his name may be more familiar to casual basketball
fans. (He was also just called for another foul.) His 14 points per game in two
contests against the latest group of NBA mercenaries, uh make that Dream Team,
helped solidify his reputation. Songaila, who just picked up his third foul, is
a Wooden candidate this year- quite a jump for a guy who was just at third team
all-league selection last year.
Songaila is equally dangerous facing the basket or with his
back to the basket. He has a great touch from 8-10 feet on the wing. Against
opposing centers or power forwards heÂs able to use that jumper to set them up
for a quick drive to the basket. If you try to stop him by using a smaller
defender to limit that penetration heÂll post up and use his size. Fourth foul
was just called. Inside heÂll use either hand for soft shots in the post and
has a solid drop-step move that sets up a series of power moves.
This year heÂs averaging 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per
game. Odom and his staff probably need to do a better job though of getting
Songaila in position to best use his offensive skills. HeÂs in danger of
falling into the same mold as many European big men who are enamoured with the
outside shot. Against Duke, where the "Idiots Guide to Beating Duke"
handbook says to pound the ball inside and draw fouls, itÂs doubtful that Odom
will let Songaila spend too much time out on the perimeter. Songaila also has
troubles with ballhandling where he leads the team with 45 turnovers. Many of
those come from offensive fouls and against Duke heÂs usually good for one or
On defense the big guy isnÂt nearly as effective. His
footwork is nowhere nearly as developed as it is on the offensive end of the
floor and consequently he frequently reaches in and picks up cheap fouls. In
fact, thereÂs the fifth foul now and thatÂs pretty typical for Songaila. In
the 35 games he played last year he picked up at least 4 fouls in 19 of them. In
7 of those contests he fouled out. This guy could be averaging 20 points a game
if he could stay on the court.
Senior center Josh Shoemaker (6-9/237) starts alongside
Songaila. Shoemaker is in there to do the dirty work in rebounding and
defending. HeÂs not a bad shooter (hitting on 57% of his field goal attempts)
but he doesnÂt take all that many attempts (5 per game). Instead he
concentrates on hustling for rebounds where he averages 8.4 per game. He also
has a penchant for hitting a big shot against Duke and if you donÂt respect
his offense heÂll make you pay. He has good range on his jumper where he hits
out to about 15 feet. He doesnÂt have many low post moves; instead he scores
on offensive rebounds and garbage baskets. Defensively heÂs sound and because
of SongailaÂs limited mobility he often defends the opponents power forward.
Shoemaker is a regular starter for the first time in his
career mainly because of a preseason injury to returning starter Rafael
Vidaurreta who underwent arthroscopic surgery to his right knee in late
September. Vidaurreta (6-9/268) is a three year starter who has even less
offense than Shoemaker. But, at least in previous years, Vidaurreta has been one
of the top defensive centers in the league. The big problem for Vidaurreta is
that as a guy who earns his playing time through is defense, a knee injury can
be particularly devastating. If he had some offense to contribute (this year
heÂs averaging 2.8 points per game) he could see more playing time. But as a
pure defensive player with his reflexes slowed due to the injury, he has
struggled to contribute as much as he has in the past. Vidaurreta did not play
in WakeÂs last game as a result of a disciplinary action by Odom for an
undisclosed rules violation.
VidaurretaÂs injuries and struggles have resulted in an
increase in playing time for high-flying sophomore Antwan Scott (6-8/197). Scott
is the most athletic player in the Deacon frontcourt. Actually he may be the
most athletic frontcourt player in the whole ACC. He is an electrifying
offensive player with offensive range good to about 2 feet from the rim. But
thatÂs two feet straight up. He does have some offense moves, but heÂs not a
terrific shooter. His 56% field goal shooting is greatly influenced by his shot
selection which is heavy on rim-rattling dunks. Defensively heÂs a great shot
blocker but his slight frame allows bigger opponents to back him down in the low
The question for Odom is how to matchup his frontcourt
assignments. Wake is primarily a man-to-man team, although theyÂll also play
some zone. The biggest challenge will be finding someone to matchup with Shane
Battier who continues to expand his offensive skills. Check out his run from the
Georgia Tech game:
- 14:25 Â FG by Battier
- 13:55 Â 3 pt. FG by Battier
- 13:31 Â 3 pt. FG by Battier
- 13:19 Â FG by Battier
- 13:03 Â FG by Battier
- 12:46 Â 3 pt. FG by Battier
In a span of less than 2 minutes Battier blitzed the Yellow
Jackets for 15 points on 6-6 shooting. He did it with three point shots, drives
to the basket, and pull-up jumpers that showcased the entire package. On one
drive he gave a jab step fake to the left to set up a baseline drive. The jab
step, combined with the necessary respect for BattierÂs jumper, spun the Tech
defender around like a Labrador Retriever falling for the old fake ball toss
In games past the logical matchup for Battier has been
Shoemaker who is more mobile than Songaila. Still, Battier will be much more
accustomed to playing the perimeter than Shoemaker and could cause him some
problems. Scott should also see some minutes defending Battier. That would leave
Songaila to square off against Carlos Boozer in what may be a race to see which
player fouls out first. SongailaÂs foul problems are well chronicled, but
Boozer has struggled with the same problem this year. On a team with little
inside depth itÂs critical for Duke to keep Boozer in the game. Yet he leads
the team in fouls and has seen his playing time limited as a result.
When heÂs in the game Boozer can be a dominating performer.
After drawing several fouls and lighting the fuse on the Alvin Jones time bomb,
Boozer went on to a 24-point performance in the Georgia Tech contest. He
narrowly missed the double-double by finishing with 9 rebounds. HeÂs also been
impressive from the free throw line where heÂs hitting 85% in ACC play.
On offense, Boozer has a game similar to Songaila. He has a
nice 10 foot jumper when facing the basket and he can take the ball to the hole.
Boozer has the size (6-9/270) to have an effective low post game but he
doesnÂt have as many low post moves as Songaila. What he does have though is a
tremendous dexterity with his left hand that he uses to his advantage.
Duke has been getting a consistent 8 Â 10 minutes a game out
of 7th man Matt Christensen who gives Duke some frontcourt depth.
Christensen could probably see more minutes but for the fact that he fouls at an
even greater pace than Boozer or Songaila. Christensen picks up a foul for every
5 minutes heÂs in the game which not only limits his play, but contributes to
getting the opponent into the bonus more quickly. While heÂs in the game
though, Christensen is doing the things Duke needs from him. HeÂs DukeÂs
leading rebounder per minutes played (1 rebound every 3.4 minutes) and he gives
the Devils a physical presence off the bench. HeÂs also improved his shooting
over the last few games to raise his percentage to 52.6% although heÂs never
going to be a key option for Duke.
If Duke gets a working lead or if fouls start to pile up on
the Devils then Reggie Love and Casey Sanders can give Krzyzewski some
additional depth. Love is a 6-5 walkon from the football team who plays bigger
than his size due to his 40-inch vertical leap. Sanders is a 6-11 post player
who can run the floor and block shots but his relative lack of strength and
basketball experience has limited his playing time.
Josh Howard (6-6/191) has had a busy past 10 months. In
addition to averaging 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last year en route to
becoming one of the leagueÂs top freshmen Howard also had the additional
burden of helping to drive Niki Arinze off campus. HowardÂs role in ArinzeÂs
departure was figurative, not literal but Arinze, who had to face Howard every
day in practice, was bright enough to read the writing on the wall. Arinze was a
6-5 forward who showed potential in his first two years despite battling
constant injury. But with the arrival of Howard, Arinze decide to leave the
Demons for greener pastures.
If Odom and his staff didnÂt spend too much time lamenting
ArinzeÂs departure itÂs probably due to the development of Howard. In his
second year with the team Howard has emerged as the leading scorer, averaging
14.5 points per game. He is not an exceptional long ranger shooter and wonÂt
take too many three point attempts. For the season heÂs shooting just 28% on
25 attempts. Where he gets his most of his points is on mid-range jumpers and
moves to the basket.
HowardÂs also the best defender on the Wake team, leading
them in steals and second in blocked shots. He does all the little things a team
needs to win, which is unusual for a teamÂs leading scorer. Howard is one of
those guys who always end up with the ball. HeÂll likely face off against
DukeÂs Michael Dunleavy who is coming off another sup-par outing in the game
against Tech. Dunleavy finished the game with an uncharacteristic 4 points on
2-9 shooting along with 4 fouls and 2 turnovers. Those arenÂt the kind of
numbers Duke is used to getting from Dunleavy who had been one of their most
reliable performers for much of the season. When heÂs on his game, Dunleavy
gives defenders difficulty with his combination of size, outside shooting
ability, and ballhandling skills.
One of the more enigmatic aspects to the success of the
post-Duncan Deacons has been the play of Robert OÂKelley. In 1998 they were
16-14 with OÂKelley averaging 16.6 ppg. In 1999 they finished at 17-14 for
fourth in the league with OÂKelley pacing the team with a 17.5 ppg average.
Last year they finished at 22-14 with OÂKelley second on the team in scoring
at 13.3 ppg. This year they are enjoying their best year since DuncanÂs
departure and OÂKelley is just 4th on the team in scoring with a
12.4 ppg average.
What this says is that there is only so far a team can go when
it relies on a 6-1 (who are they kidding?) point guard who shoots just 30% from
the three point line. The success of the Deacons has been inversely
proportionate to their dependence on OÂKelley. In fact, one of the keys to
last yearÂs late season run was a lineup adjustment when Odom moved OÂKelley
from the point guard spot to the off guard.
Still, what has happened to OÂKelley has been one of the
bigger questions regarding ACC players in recent years. After his solid freshman
season, his three point shooting percentage has fallen every year. It used to be
that opponents were holding their breath every time OÂKelley would uncork a
three point shot. Last year it was the Wake fans who were holding their breath.
In recent games there hasnÂt been any doubt and Wake fans are already cursing
as he releases the ball.
Right now the situation is pretty bad for the Wake guard. In
his last two games heÂs hit on just 5 of his 20 attempts. HeÂs 1-17 on three
point attempts in his last three games. HeÂs not just missing, heÂs missing
badly. But the problem with a guy like OÂKelley is that you just know heÂs
going to have a breakout game at some point (witness his performance down the
stretch in the UNC game last year) and you just hope itÂs not against you.
OÂKelley will take the ball to the basket when his outside
shot isnÂt falling. That can present some problems for him as he is too small
to shoot over anyone so he has to take the ball all the way to the hoop and can
pick up some charging fouls as a result. HeÂs been a reasonably sound
ballhandler with a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio and Odom will use him at point
guard during stretches of the game. Defensively heÂs not exceptional and
because of his size he can be a matchup problem for the Deacons.
With OÂKelley at the off guard the Deacons have rotated two
players at the point. Juniors Broderick Hicks (6-1) and Ervin Murray (6-5) have
split starts for Wake. Hicks began the season as the starter but Murray has
replaced him in recent games. That may change again in their next game as Murray
saw just 7 minutes against Clemson when he was 0-1 from the field and had just 1
assist against 3 turnovers. ThatÂs a continuation of a streak of poor play
that started for Murray in the Maryland game where he was 0-3 although he did
have 6 assists in that game.
Hicks is likely to be the starter since he had a strong outing
against Clemson when he scored 18 points although he only had 1 assist. Hicks
brings more scoring to the point guard spot than Murray and heÂs very safe
with the ball (2.875 assist-to-turnover ratio). When heÂs in the game his
quickness allows Wake to play at a faster pace. HeÂs also better defensively
as heÂs second on the team in steals.
Just how far Murray has fallen in OdomÂs doghouse is hard to
say but itÂs telling that in the Clemson game the coach turned to little-used
freshman A.W. Hamilton when Hicks needed a rest. Hamilton was a late signee for
the Deacons who appears to have answered the question "where did Greg
NewtonÂs personal barber go?" To complete the image Hamilton has his
initials tattooed on his shoulder although there are no signs of any body
piercings Â yet. To his credit, Hamilton responded with 6 points in 6 minutes
of play and as a result he may see some of MurrayÂs playing time.
ItÂs a testament to Dave OdomÂs loyalty, or perhaps his
stubbornness, that Robert OÂKelley is still in the DeaconsÂ starting lineup.
Testing that loyalty or stubbornness is junior Craig Dawson (6-5/205), who is
outperforming OÂKelley in nearly every facet of the game. Dawson averages more
points, more rebounds, fewer turnovers, and shoots a better percentage than
OÂKelley. However, like OÂKelley, Dawson is really struggling from the field
as of late. HeÂs shooting just 35% from the field and 26% from three since the
UNC game and seems to be forcing a lot of his shots. Dawson is more of a shooter
than a scorer and needs his teammates to help set up his shots.
DawsonÂs size does let him take smaller defenders inside
where he can post them up. Against Duke, where heÂs likely to be defended by
Dunleavy and Nate James, he may not have that option. If heÂs forced to rely
on his outside shot he may have difficulty getting points since the team rarely
runs any sets designed for him and with DukeÂs overplaying defense it will be
hard for him to get open looks on the wing where he is most effective.
If one team in this game is characterized by a deep backcourt
that is struggling from the field and has questions at point guard then the
other team is the exact opposite. The reason for that is Jason Williams who may
be the early leader for National Player of the Year. (The chief competition for
that appears to be coming from Battier which is a nice problem to have- Which of
your players do you feel should be the NPOY?)
ItÂs tempting to start listing the reasons why Williams is
emerging as such a great point guard but to do him full justice would require
the equivalent in bandwidth to download "Stairway to Heaven" from
Napster. Suffice it to say that the only point guard in Duke history that I
would even dare to compare to Williams is Bobby Hurley and thatÂs pretty
rarified air. I go into these previews with the understanding that we are going
to have an advantage at the point guard spot unless we are playing the Seatle
Supersonics and even then I have to think about it. Just look at WilliamsÂ
performances against some of the top guards on the schedule-
- 9 points, 10 assists, and 6 rebounds against TempleÂs
- 23 points, 7 assists, and 2 steals against IllinoisÂ
- 30 points, 3 assists against TempleÂs Lynn Greer.
- 18 points, 6 assists, and 2 steals against ClemsonÂs Will
- 17 points, 10 assists, and 2 steals against VirginiaÂs
- 34 points, 9 assists, and 5 rebounds against Boston
CollegeÂs Troy Bell.
If youÂre Dave Odom and youÂre looking at Jason
WilliamsÂ you are not a happy man. If Hicks starts at the point then he will
be asked to check Williams. While Hicks is a sound defender heÂs still going
to have difficulty with Williams. If Murray starts OÂKelley will likely draw
Williams and the scenario is much the same.
The off-guard matchup will be equally difficult for the
Deacons as senior Nate James is enjoying his best year as a Blue Devil. James,
much like Dunleavy, has struggled somewhat in the last two games and needs to
regain the form that has let him average 14.3 ppg. HeÂll present a challenge
to Wake as he is a very physical guard (6-6/205) who likes to go inside and
attack the offensive glass. If Hicks starts in the backcourt then the diminutive
OÂKelley would have to guard James in a man defense which would be a huge
advantage for James inside. If Murray is in the game then he has the size to
matchup with James but itÂs unlikely that he is as comfortable on the glass as
James is. Defensively, James has developed into DukeÂs top perimeter defender
and will probably matchup on OÂKelley. Although he lacks OÂKelleyÂs
quickness, James should be able to bother the Wake guard with his long reach.
Duke can also bring in Chris Duhon for defensive help. At 6-3,
Duhon has the quickness to matchup with WakeÂs smaller guards (Hicks and
OÂKelley). His defense is much better than what one would expect from a
freshman and heÂs usually good for one or two eye-popping defensive plays each
game. Duke would still like to get more offense out of him but his 5.3 assists
per game keep the coaching staff smiling regardless of his shooting percentage.
Wake Forest is coming into Durham looking to regain some lost
confidence. Cameron is a tough place to regain anything. In order to defeat
Duke, Wake is going to have to score more points than they would normally do.
This yearÂs Wake team plays a more up-tempo game but they are still nearly 14
points per game behind Duke in scoring average and itÂs doubtful theyÂll be
able to force Duke to play at their pace in a game in Cameron.
On defense Duke must look to contain Howard and Songaila Â
the rest of the Deacon offense has been struggling as of late. Wake will
undoubtedly go to Songaila in an effort to draw fouls on Boozer and the Duke
post player has to avoid foul difficulties to prevent the teamÂs depth
problems from being exposed. Look for Battier to double down on Songaila until
Shoemaker makes him pay by hitting some weakside jumpers or layups.
Howard will see lots of James and Dunleavy as the two switch
on perimeter assignments. Physically heÂs a tough matchup for Duke as his
19-point outburst in last yearÂs ACC Tournament game illustrates. If Wake is
going to steal a road win in Cameron theyÂll need to continue their
conservative play with the ball. Wake leads the conference with just 11.5
turnovers per game and if they can continue at that pace theyÂll take away
DukeÂs most effective weapon Â transition offense. Against Virginia and
Maryland, the two teams right behind Duke in turnovers forced per game, the
Deacons averaged just 12.5 turnovers. The difference between Duke and the other
teams though is that the Devils tend to force more turnovers in a halfcourt
defense rather than pressing and trapping like the Cavs and the Terps.
On offense the Devils have several matchups they can look to
exploit. As noted earlier, when Hicks and OÂKelley are in the game together
the Deacons have a small backcourt and will have trouble matching up with Duke
if Duhon and Williams are not in the game at the same time. The guy who usually
benefits from that is Nate James who often has a smaller defender he can take
into the paint. Odom may counter by playing a serious size mismatch and putting
Howard on James and leaving Hicks or O'Kelley to defend Dunleavy who is more of
a perimeter player than James. Still, no coach wants to defend 6-9 with 6-1.
DukeÂs also going to want to go to Boozer as much as they
can while still staying within the framework of their offense. It may be a case
of trying to foul out Songaila before he fouls out Boozer. However, unlike Duke
who can help on Songaila with Battier, there is no Duke player that is safe to
leave unguarded. In particular, the Deacons are not going to be able to double
with Shoemaker, Scott, or Vidaurreta who will be chasing Shane Battier around
the perimeter. ThatÂs another matchup where Duke has an advantage and Battier,
who averaged 22 points a game last year against Wake, could have a huge game. In
last yearÂs game in Cameron, Battier went off for 34 points on 11-16 shooting
including 5-9 from the three point line.
But the one place where Duke has the clear advantage is at the
point guard spot. ThereÂs nobody on the Deacon team who matches up well with
Williams but thatÂs not terribly unusual. If Williams plays his game Â
maintains his focus and channels his energy in a positive way Â then the rest
of DukeÂs offense will be keyed through him. Wake would probably be happy with
Williams shooting three pointers, despite his 47.5% success rate from there. If
heÂs shooting threes though heÂs not as likely to get the rest of the Duke
offense involved. Fortunately for Duke, Williams has evolved into a very astute
player who recognizes what the team needs to perform at their peak.
On the surface everything would seem to point towards a Duke
victory. Duke has been playing well and the Deacons have been struggling. But
this is still the same Wake team that crushed Kansas and Virginia and if their
outside shooters regain their touch they can be a very dangerous team. Duke will
need to jump on them early to minimize their depth advantage and to prevent the
Deacons from gaining any confidence. Wake is a team with a lot of self-doubt
right now. If Duke is able to hit them hard in the early going then the game
could become a blowout. However, if the Deacons are able to play with (or
outplay) Duke in the early going then they may be able to find that confidence
theyÂre missing. If that happens this is anybodyÂs game.