Duke's ancient rivalry with Wake Forest renews Thursday, with the Deacons visiting Cameron with a young and developing team. For the first time since 1921, there won't be a second game: Duke misses the trip to Winston-Salem this year to accomodate the ACC's post-expansion schedule. Duke will be favored, but Wake has some things going for them as well.In some ways, the most basic play in basketball is as simple as a little man getting the ball to a big man so that he can score in close. Wake certainly has a promising point guard in Ishmael Smith, who gets from one end of the court to the other as quick as just about anyone. He is very thin, weighing only 155, but his quickness is a real gift. Smith is currently leading the ACC in assists, something you don't often see from freshmen.
And somewhat surprisingly, Kyle Visser has blossomed in his senior year, averaging 18.3 ppg and 7.8 rpg. He's having about as good a senior season as he could have.
The only other senior on the team is Michael Drum, who has been a nifty find for Wake Forest. He's not a great player, but he's smart and solid.
Otherwise, Wake is about as young as Duke. The Deacs list seven sophs and seven freshmen. Last year's crop was up and down, with Shamaine Dukes and Harvey Hale struggling in the post Chris Paul world. Cameron Stanley and Kevin Swinton are pretty athletic guys who at the least have the potential to be solid defenders, and probably more. The other three sophs are walk-ons.
Aside from Smith, the freshman class includes Jamie Skeen, a rugged forward who has had a tough time adapting to the ACC so far, but who has some nice potential; Anthony Gurley, a 6-3 guard who Wake is very high on (and who is coming off his first start); L.D. Williams, a talented 6-4 guard who like Stanley, Swinton, and Hale should someday be part of an oppressive Wake defense; 6-10 redshirt David Weaver, who also starred on his high school track team, and 6-9 Casey Crawford, who hasn't had much of an impact so far. And Chas McFarland is another young big man who hasn't had an impact yet, but who relished practicing against his AAU teammate Greg Oden, and who is not scared of good competition.
Skeen, Smith, and Williams have started consistently, and with three freshmen in the lineup, Wake has had some growing pains.
They were completely crushed by a sophisticated Air Force, 94-58, and had their hat handed to them by DePaul, 78-63. State also dominated them, 88-74, and it wasn't that close.
On the other hand, they certainly gave Virginia Tech a game; came back from 17 down to beat Miami, and fought back against B.C. before losing 95-85.
Under Skip Prosser, Wake has been an up-tempo team, and certainly that will continue with a speedburner like Smith running the show.
Duke will have trouble matching up with him individually in the open court, but he'll also have some matchup problems since every Duke guard (and player) is significantly stronger.
Wake will have to find a way to get through Duke's impressive defense, and obviously their preferred method is to get through it as quickly as possible before the defense really sets up.
Duke on the other hand has to deal with a fairly athletic opponent, and has to build on the smooth offensive performance against Miami. The Devils did a lot of things right against the 'Canes, and the overall level of performance as exceptional, but perhaps no one was more critical than Greg Paulus. He limited his turnovers, moved the ball well, and again showed (as he did against Gonzaga) that he could be an inspirational leader.
After injuring his shoulder (and we've seen no follow up on this so we assume he's fine), Paulus came back in the game and though in obvious discomfort, turned in an inspirational performance. Duke was already in control, but Miami on a couple of occasions threatened to get back into the game. Paulus was a big part of the reason they didn't, and with DeMarcus Nelson in foul trouble, it was a good thing he could tough it out.
This team needs a kid who can show that kind of guts. That's not to say no one else does - certainly Nelson, among others, is a rough tough creampuff, with apologies to R. Crumb (actually, probably Nelson, too). But Paulus is the guy who is the most charismatically tough. When he's on, you can really see why J.J. Redick predicted he'd be the next hated Blue Devil around the ACC. He's got a bit of Wojo and Bobby Hurley in him.
Wake could have a lot of problems with Josh McRoberts, too. If they go man, he'll pull whoever is on him (presumably Visser) out and open Wake's defense to his passes. Under Prosser, Wake has been a fun team, but not exactly a defensive powerhouse, and with a young team still learning to play team defense, McRoberts could pick them apart.
Against Miami, DeMarcus Nelson cleaned up down low, but that might be tougher to do against Wake Forest. However, he and Gerald Henderson should have a lot of opportunities against the Deacs, whether slashing inside or on the break.
Although Lance Thomas got in foul trouble last time out, he also had some solid minutes. He'll have to work on drawing charges, since he hasn't quite mastered that and it has cost him, but if he can build on his aggression against the 'Canes, it's all to the good.
Jon Scheyer has had, in some respects, as good a freshman year as anyone has lately at Duke. He's not going to put up Jason Williams type numbers, but he has shot well enough, he's proven to be a solid backup point, and has really surprised us with the quality of his defense. He's been really as good as advertised, and in many respects, better.
Against smaller teams, Brian Zoubek has not played a lot since the mismatch works against Duke, but against Wake, he could be a really key player. The young big man needs to get stronger, and he has some trouble defending smaller players and picks up some silly fouls, but he's developing into a reliable low post offensive presence.
This is an interesting game in a lot of ways: Duke's defense vs. Skip Prosser's hurry-up offense, two young and developing teams with significant potential, and with both having their moments this year, although Wake has definitely struggled.
And then there is the pressure of the ACC race. Wake is firmly at the bottom now, trying to crawl out of a four-way tie for last. Duke is 1-2 with a shot at moving into a three-way tie for fifth. They have a chance (although certainly no guarantee) of a nice winning streak if things break their way over the next few games. Beating Wake would be a big step towards significant improvement.