Next up for Duke is Wake Forest and while on paper this seems like a mismatch, dramatic developments at Wake over the weekend could change things considerably.
If you haven’t heard, Wake’s A.D. Ron Wellman, is stepping down. Dave Glenn broke the story and while we couldn’t read everything he wrote due to a firewall, we saw enough to see that he tied his “abrupt” retirement to Wake’s basketball woes.
If that’s the case then Danny Manning is on the way out and his players are going to be aware of that.
We’ve found ourselves wondering through the season, as Wake has had terrible struggles, if he’s lost his team. When you consider how many players have left early, you have to wonder about his ability to relate to his team.
Manning is in a pretty unique position. He was a legitimately great player, a breakthrough at 6-11, a guy who could do anything on the court. We’ve seen a lot of that after Manning but he was the first.
He has a tremendous instinctive understanding of the game but he was a reserved player and remains so as an adult and we have to wonder how that affects his ability to teach. As we’ve discussed before, being a great player doesn't necessarily mean you'll be a great coach. Magic Johnson couldn’t do it. He saw the game at a level his players never did and quickly grew frustrated by their relative limitations. Understanding something and imparting it are two very different things and being reserved compounds that.
Wake has had a few nice games this year but for the most part has struggled. The Deacs haven’t passed the ball well and have typically faded late in games and on occasion have taken some real beatings.
Wake is last in the ACC in defense and second to last in offense. You can be bad in one and still be successful but not in both.
As you may remember, Duke won by 22 up there but it was a four point game with 3:17 in the first half.
In other words, Wake was certainly competitive and went into halftime down 42-34.
As so often happened to the Deacs this season, the second half was a different story and Duke pulled away quickly.
This time of course Duke is unlikely to have Zion Williamson but still has the wonderfully versatile RJ Barrett and Tre Jones, perhaps the best defender in the ACC, and Cam Reddish, who is showing sides of his game we haven’t seen before.
Alex O’ Connell is beginning to play with confidence and Jack White finally broke his shooting slump against Miami this past Saturday. Additionally, Marques Bolden, who has been outstanding on defense all year long, is beginning to show significant offensive improvement.
The upshot of Williamson’s absence? More minutes and opportunities for other players. Duke’s biggest flaws have been three point shooting, free throw shooting and depth. Two of the three have been improved in his absence and other than the Miami game, free throw shooting has hovered between 70 and 80 percent since the UNC game.
Duke has re-formed around Barrett’s versatility. With O’ Connell and White and possibly Joey Baker helping out with three point shooting, things are working out about as well as they could with Williamson unavailable.
For Wake Forest, things are complicated by the likely absence of 6-11 sophomore Olivier Sarr. The promising young big man from France who has missed the last three games with an ankle injury.
The Deacs have gotten some nice performances lately from Brandon Childress and 6-8 freshman Jaylen Hoard, Wake’s other Frenchman on the roster, is the real deal. He’s a legitimate pro prospect. Discerning fans should watch him carefully. He’s going to be very good very soon.
The third primary offensive threat from Wake Forest is 6-5 sophomore Chaundee Brown.
All three of them are averaging in double figures with Brown getting 11.6 ppg, Hoard 13.4 and Childress 14.6.
No one else is averaging more than 7.0 ppg.
For most of this season Wake Forest has appeared to be dispirited and disorganized. The players have repeatedly criticized their team performance and energy as has Manning.
Now, with Manning apparently on the way out, how will they react? Is this team going to continue to accept its fate passively? Or will it find a new level of energy and passion with the understanding that their coach is near the end?
Our guess is the latter. Wake Forest is going to come into Cameron inspired and feeling they have an advantage or break if Williamson is not suited up, which seems unlikely at this point since he hasn't played at full speed yet.
And we should point out that this is also a classic trap game. Mike Krzyzewski has always made sure that his teams focused on the current game rather than looking ahead but this group is still quite young. It has matured immensely during the season but at times is still vulnerable to youth. Consider how it reacted after the Jones injury in the Syracuse game and then the Williamson injury during the UNC game.
We wouldn’t expect Duke to be flat but it’s a possibility. And if Duke is flat and Wake plays with the emotions of a team about to lose its coach, well, you would have the classic outlines of a shocking upset, wouldn’t you?
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