Duke gets Wake Forest next, in Winston-Salem, and while Wake's
season hasn't been the breakthrough everyone thought it might be, it's not like
they've collapsed, either. The Deacs are 17-3 so far, and by any measure,
that's a sensational season to date.
The immediately obvious thing is that both teams have potent
backcourts, with Wake's Chris Paul a leading candidate for national player of
the year and Justin Gray one of the true clutch players in the country. He's
also had some big games against Duke. Taron Downey comes off the bench and
does a sensational job for Wake Forest and is a true team player, a guy who
willingly gave up his starting spot to Chris Paul for the good of the
team. He's a kid anyone could admire, his foolishness at Florida State
aside (where he hit a three pointer, got fouled and could have won the game -
but foolishly made the throat-slashing gesture before he missed the free throw,
also ending Wake's record streak of 50 straight free throws). Big whoop.
He's a real asset.
Wake also offers a matchup problem at small forward, where
Jamaal Levy presents weird matchup problems for just about anyone.
At 6-9, the guy weighs about 190 but is a great rebounder.
Go figure. It's proof, though, that rebounding, as Charles Barkley used to tell
us (and DeMarcus Nelson reminds us now), is just a question of desire.
After him is most likely Trent Strickland, and Duke doesn't
really have anyone who matches up with him very well.
Wake also usually starts Vytas Danelius, who has had injury
problems and has never really recovered his potential.
Skip Prosser says that the reason Wake rebounds well is
because they shoot so poorly, and they have to do it.
Eric Williams, who usually bangs right around the basket, is
shooting .653, but after him, the only guy with much PT who shoots well is,
perhaps predictably, Chris Ellis, son of former NBA marksman Dale Ellis, who
checks in at .571. Jamaal Levy is just under .500.
Chris Paul? .455. Justin Young? .435 Taron Downey?
Yet all three are capable of going on unholy shooting streaks,
and Chris Paul can do a fair imitation of Isaiah Thomas (the player, not the GM)
when he gets inside.
For Shelden Williams, who said after the Virginia Tech game
that he liked playing against physical players, he'll get his chance against
Wake Forest's Eric Williams.
Williams has been rapped at times for not playing tough enough
or whatever, but there's a very simple explanation: while he's built like an
over-sized linebacker, he is a big, sweet kid who has had to learn how to be a
little mean. He's one of our favorite ACC players, actually, and a good
kid all the way around. And it's hard not to get a kick out of his mom,
who has become a minor celebrity in her own right with her regular appearances
on TV during her son's games.
Obviously, watching the bull elephants pound each other inside
is going to be a lot of fun, but for Duke, the key is restraining Chris Paul.
Paul has turned out to be a sensational guard. He's quick,
he's smart, and he's rapidly becoming one of the better point guards in recent
years, not just in the ACC, but nationally. The one problem he has had,
though, is with bigger guards, so unless we miss our guess, Daniel Ewing will be
guarding Paul, which would likely mean Sean Dockery would take Justin Gray, and
J.J. Redick would, again, get a mismatch defensively, either Danelius or Levy.
On the other hand, Wake's zone can't extend as far as Redick's
range does, so zoning him may or may not be possible, though a junk defense
Unfortunately, though, Duke has the same dilemma they had
against Maryland, which is Wake has a ton of big guys to run in and out, and
Duke simply doesn't.
Shelden Williams has done a brilliant job of staying out of
foul trouble and has been a powerhouse down low, but he can't guard everyone at
the same time.
Since returning from mono, Shavlik Randolph has been limited
in minutes, but not in terms of heart or passion. He put everything he had
into the Tech game, and in every game since he's been back. Unfortunately,
so far he's maxing out at about 12 minutes per game. This would be a great
time to have a bit more endurance.
The good thing about Wake is that they'll want to get into a
running game, and all things considered, that's probably good for Duke.
We're honestly not sure what to expect. Duke has shown
enormous guts this season, and no doubt believes they can go toe-to-toe with
anyone. This is when things start getting serious - well, actually the
Maryland game was - but with Wake, Tech, UNC and Maryland still left, it's a
tough way to finish. A win in Winston-Salem would be huge, of course, and would
make it a lot harder for Wake or Maryland to get up to either first or second
place, depending on how things shake out from here. Big game? Huge.