Next up for Duke is Wake Forest and while the Deacs have struggled to beat the ACC’s best teams, particularly on the road, there is no question that Wake Forest is a vastly improved team over what we’ve seen the last few years.
At 15-11, Wake is generally considered a bubble team (that’s what being in the ACC does for you. A lot of 15-11 teams are dead and buried).
Danny Manning has developed a genuine star in John Collins, who has a pretty clear glide path the the NBA whenever he decides to take it. Collins is averaging 18.5 ppg and 9.4 rpg in 26 mpg. His biggest problem has been fouls but that’s improved too: in the last five games he’s only hit four fouls once and three just once too. This has allowed him to stay on the court three minutes longer per game and Wake Forest has gone 4-2 in those games. He’s easily Wake’s most promising big man since Tim Duncan ruled the ACC.
As we’ve noted before, Manning is building an athletic team with some big guards. Collins is hugely athletic. Guards Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods are pretty solid athletes. Brandon Childress can hold his own and will develop into a pretty good point guard before he’s done.
Grad student transfer Austin Arians and Euro import Konstantinos Mitoglou aren’t as athletic but they’re pretty smart players who are getting starter minutes. Mitchell Wilbekin, Scottie’s little brother (he excelled at Florida for Billy Donovan) is an average athlete but a first-rate gym rat. He can hurt you.
Doral Moore is a solid reserve while Rich Washington and Donovan Mitchell are developing for later. Sam Japhet-Mathias is developing but not ready to make a big impact yet.
Collins’ tendency to get into foul trouble causes two problems: first is the obvious: he’s Wake’s best player and they need him on the floor.
The other problem is less obvious but still critical: Manning is really only confident in seven of his players. Crawford, Woods, Wilbekin, Collins, Mitoglou, Arians and Childress all average between 20.3 and 31 mpg. Doral Moore gets 9.1. After that, the depth thins out fast.
This probably has a lot to do with why Wake tends to burn out in the second half of intense games -they could use one or two more players to give the main guys a better blow.
Wake could really use a guy like Matt Jones or Theo Pinson, a mid-range guy who could defend multiple players and drive or hit an open shot or two.
They may have that next season in Chaundee Brown (6-5), or possibly Melo Eggleston (6-8.5). For that matter, they could use a power forward and Sunday Okeke, who is unranked but 6-8 and 230, could possibly help.
That’s next year though.
This year, Wake has struggled to win close games and Cameron is a very tough environment for a still-young team.
And Duke is playing much better than when the Blue Devils won at Wake Forest on Luke Kennard’s late three. As you’ll remember, he came off a baseline screen and nailed a three.
There was another hero on that play though - Harry Giles screened Wilbekin just enough to give Kennard a clear shot. It would have been a tougher shot without that Giles screen.
IF Duke had lost, it would have been the fourth loss in five games and the season would have been going a different direction.
Instead, Duke has won six straight, by some estimates is up to a three seed and some people now see Duke as the NCAA favorite again.
And Duke will be favored in this game too. As the team has gotten healthy roles have been sorted out and individual players are improving. Duke has improved in every aspect of the game.
Don’t discount the opportunity it presents Wake Forest though. A win in Cameron would go a long way towards securing a bid for the Deacons. They're perfectly aware of it and you can expect them to give their very best effort.
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