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Next Up - Wake Forest

Next up for Duke is Wake Forest, and while the Deacs are young, they are big, athletic, and talented. It's not going to be as easy as some people think.

Wake's backcourt is tremendously quick. Soph Ish Smith, 6-0, is a blur, and 6-2 freshman Jeff Teague is growing up fast.

They're also starting 6-2 junior Harvey Hale, the old man of the team, as a third guard, 6-8 rookie James Johnson at forward, and 6-11 Chas McFarland at center.

Jamie Skeen, the 6-8 power forward, also starts periodically. L.D. Williams, the 6-4 sophomore, is playing again after an injury, and 6-10 David Weaver is a talented backup who hasn't come close to his potential yet. Cameron Stanley is a 6-7 junior who has had injuries during his career, but is a reliable player off the bench. Freshman Gary Clark is coming on as well.

Last season, before his tragic death, Skip Prosser said he wanted to focus more on defense, and his friend and successor Dino Gaudio has made this a much better defensive team than it was before. Wake is third in the ACC in scoring defense and fourth in field goal percent defense. They're also second in the conference in turnover margin, behind Duke.

Stats aside, they have interesting players with interesting stories. James Johnson came out of nowhere (aka the high plains) to establish himself as a great high school player, but by the time everyone had caught on, Wake had already locked him up. The 6-8 Johnson is a black belt martial artist who can do backflips and has full-court skills (come to think of it, we notice Ryan Reid didn't hit him in the game between FSU and Wake - wise move).

Chas McFarland was a skinny, undeveloped big man who was on the same AAU team as Josh McRoberts and Greg Oden, and who has a shot at being a better pro than either one. This depends on Oden's health, but if he can't recover from his knee injury that's automatic. We noticed him right away because he said he wasn't scared of Oden and enjoyed playing against him on a regular basis because it pushed him. He started as a project and has become a legitimate ACC big man.

David Weaver was a championship high school track star has the potential to be super.

Wake's starting lineup looks like a three guard/forward/center lineup, but that's highly misleading because of James Johnson.

Kyle Singler may have become the player to beat for Rookie Of The Year, but Johnson is right there. He's a highly skilled 6-8 player, a guy who can rebound and lead the break, who can hit from outside or drive. He's somewhat like a taller DeMarcus Nelson, though not as strong (not many people are).

The matchups in this one are going to be interesting. McFarland has become a legitimate player but he's not hugely productive offensively. Either Singler or Lance Thomas will get him; the other will get Johnson, at least initially. Don't be surprised to see DeMarcus Nelson or Gerald Henderson pick him up either. Obviously it's a good time to have Brian Zoubek back as well.

Having three guards all about 6-2 gives Duke some interesting choices defensively. They may opt to put Nelson on Smith and Paulus on Teague. As usual, Nelson will likely be shifted to whoever is causing the most trouble for Duke. Paulus will have to work hard, because whoever he is on will likely be quicker. This could be a big game for Nolan Smith as well, as he's likely to be brought in as a defensive stopper against possibly several players.

Duke hasn't gotten much offensive production from Gerald Henderson the last couple of games, presumably because he's sprained his wrist. He has defended and rebounded well, though.

Like a lot of teams Duke is likely to face from here on out, Wake is a bit short on NCAA credibility, so a win over Duke becomes instant currency. Duke has managed just about everything everyone has thrown at them so far, but at this point in the season, almost every game is critical for opponents. Wake would love to have this game to augment their case for the committee. It won't stop, either: Miami comes after Wake, and the Hurricanes are not that far off a bid. Knocking off a likely #1 seed would make an impression.

Duke has to take on the last stretch of conference play with a greater intensity than opponents. That's always what you want of course, but it's vital now. Things are going to get a lot more intense. The first Miami game suggests what is to come. Duke has the lead in the conference, they're playing superbly, but there are no guarantees. Certainly there are none in Winston-Salem Sunday evening: Duke has lost three of its last four trips to Joel.

Trivia: this isn't the first meeting between Krzyzewski and Gaudio: they squared off in 1996, when Gaudio coached Army. Duke won, 100-38.