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Next Up - Wake Forest

Wake Forest has been awful for a few years but this team, at an absolute minimum, has shown a lot of heart and deserves respect.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Georgia Tech
 Jan 8, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Tre Jones (3) celebrates after a victory against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at McCamish Pavilion. 
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
  • Time: 8:00
  • Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium
  • Video: ACCN

Next up for Duke is Wake Forest, and while Wake has struggled in one way or another since Skip Prosser died 12 years ago, you’ll recall that last year, the Demon Deacons gave many in Cameron the vapors when a last-second shot rolled off the rim (see today’s You Tube Gold). We can guarantee you that no one at Wake Forest has forgotten that near miss.

As we all know, Wake had a terrible time when Jeff Bzdelik was the coach and the fans essentially rioted, Wake Forest style, to drive him out. He went on to a distinguished career as a Houston Rockets assistant where he was regarded as a brilliant defensive mind.

Danny Manning was supposed to be an improvement and we really thought he’d do better than he’s done. In five full seasons, Manning has gone 13-19, 11-20, 19-14, 11-20 and 11-20. He’s won more than five conference games just once (9-9 in 2016-17). This year to date, Wake Forest is 8-6 and 1-3 in ACC play. No one questions Manning’s understanding of the game but for whatever reason it hasn’t translated into on-court success.

A lot of early games you can toss out but there are always a few to take seriously. For Wake, these include #14 Arizona (lost, 73-66), NC State (lost 91-82), #23 Xavier (won 80-78), Pitt (won 69-65) and Florida State (lost 78-68).

The main thing to keep in mind is that while Wake Forest only won two of these games, they were competitive in all of them. And unlike the last couple of seasons, they haven’t just given up in the last few minutes of games.

This was demonstrated most admirably at Pitt when Wake had two suspensions of key players and still won and again by how they fought Florida State when they could have just given up like they have in years past.

Wake goes about nine deep. Not surprisingly, point guard Brandon Childress (6-0 senior) gets the most minutes. He’s become a very solid leader for his team, averaging 16 ppg, 4.6 assists and 2.9 rpg.

Chaundee Brown (6-5 junior) is putting up 13.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 1.6 apg. He has a leg issue and his status is not clear for the Duke game. He was the guy who missed that shot last year, incidentally as Jack White redeemed himself after a late mental error with great defense.

Junior Olivier Sarr (7-0/255) comes off the bench but plays starter minutes. He’s nearly getting a double/double with 12.3 ppg and 9.2 rpg.

After the Big Three, Wake can turn to Andrien White (6-3), a transfer from UNC-Charlotte. He was a thousand point scorer at Charlotte so he can get some points up.

Torry Johnson (6-3) a rare sixth-year player, came over from Northern Arizona and is in his second year at Wake Forest.

Sophomore Isaiah Mucius (6-8) is thin and fairly athletic and averaging 7 ppg and 4.4 rpg.

Jahcobi Neath is getting 5.5 mpg and 4.2 ppg.

The rotation is rounded out with Ody Oguama, a 6-9 freshman from Raleigh, Sharone Wright, a 6-4 sophomore and son of the former Clemson star by the same name and, to a lesser extent, 6-8 freshman Ismael Massoud (we had listed guys who get double-figure minutes but Massoud isn’t far behind).

Although the last few years we’ve judged Wake Forest by the team’s failure to compete in the closing minutes and a distinct lack of grit, this year, as we suggested above, Wake Forest has become competitive again.

We saw this against Florida State on Wednesday: the Seminoles jumped out to a 15-3 lead only to see Wake Forest fight back. The Deacs actually took the lead at 48-45 in the second half before FSU’s athleticism and defense clamped down.

Still, the point is the same: we don't think these are the same Demon Deacons who have rolled over repeatedly in recent times.

These Deacons fight.

On Wednesday night, we saw Georgia Tech’s James Banks give Duke’s star freshman Vernon Carey fits, harassing him into a 6-14 night from the floor. He also blocked seven shots during the game and Carey, for the first time in a while, looked like a freshman with four turnovers and showing some nerves in stretches.

Georgia Tech showed that you can play Duke hard on defense and go after Carey and have a shot.

Wake Forest has a quality big guy in Sarr and enough athletes to try the same basic idea.

This would be a great game to have Wendell Moore too. Not only is Moore a solid defender at 6-6 and versatile, he’s also strong. He’d be a great asset against this Wake Forest team.

Duke’s strength this season of course has been defense and largely because of Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire, it’s become something the entire team has picked up on. The other day we looked at the roster not to see who the weakest defender was but rather to see who was least involved in defense. Last year you could have said Alex O’Connell but this year? Everyone works hard on defense. We praised Matthew Hurt earlier for being willing to dive for balls. Now, with several months of collegiate training under his belt, Hurt can, well, hurt people.

He’s no Carey physically yet and probably never will be but he’s increasingly willing to bang inside and had some really nice defensive moments against Georgia Tech. Given the power and athleticism of Banks and his fellow big Moses Wright, it says a lot that Hurt was willing to go toe to toe with them. He wasn’t ready for that earlier in the season. Now he seems willing to do dirty work.

None of this guarantees anything against Wake Forest, but our hunch is that when he drives to work or lets the dog out at night, Mike Krzyzewski thinks about this team and is thrilled. We’re not saying that he's projecting anything in March or anything like that. Just that our hunch is that in his quiet moments he’s incredibly invested with this group and tells himself something like “I love my guys every year but this...this is my idea of a team.”

It’s something for all of us to relish. It also proves, again, a point we’ve made about Duke basketball before and one we didn’t think we’d be able to make this year.

Every year when players leave, we find ourselves thinking we’ll miss those guys. But by December or so, you really don’t.

Clearly we’d love to have seen more of Zion Williamson. Watching him was something Duke fans will tell their grandchildren about.

And just as clearly everyone misses him.

When you watch this team, however, it’s not like they need him, and in that sense, as lovely as it would be to have had two years to watch him dazzle and grow, they’ve formed their own identity and Duke has moved on.

The basic theory still holds, even when the greatest talent Duke has ever had has departed.