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Next Up: Wake Forest

As Steve Forbes makes his first trip to Cameron

Miami v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 21: Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils reacts against the Miami (Fl) Hurricanes at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 21, 2020 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Duke plays, or hopes to play Wake Forest Saturday night, and things look a lot different than they maybe did just a few days ago.

  • Date: 1/9
  • Time: 12:00 noon
  • Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium
  • Video: ACCN

A few days ago, Duke hadn’t played in nearly three weeks, was missing Jalen Johnson and Wendell Moore was mired in an unbelievably bad slump.

For its part, Wake Forest was coming off a brutal trip to Atlanta which followed a game to Catawba that was a struggle.

But Duke, after struggling in the first half against Boston College, pulled together and Moore broke out of his slump in a major way.

And for its part, Wake Forest took on Virginia where Tony Bennett has built his program around a defense that just stops teams dead in their tracks and shot better than most ACC teams would dream of against the ‘Hoos.

True, Virginia is struggling on defense, but the Pack Line ends up frustrating everyone eventually. Who punks Bennett’s D first time out? It’s unheard of. Other than UMBC, of course.

Say what you will about Virginia this year but the Cavs are 6-2 and should be vastly superior to Wake Forest.

They won, but they weren’t vastly superior.

So what happens Saturday?

Good question. Let’s start with the most basic question: will Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski be on the sideline?

Not clear yet. Sidelined by contact tracing, Coach K had to sit out the BC game and is no doubt itching to get back.

Assistant coach Jon Scheyer filled in and while the first half was ugly, Duke steadied itself in the second. Duke will obviously be better with Krzyzewski on the sideline but Scheyer showed he is up to the job if called upon again.

For Duke, part of the problem is that it’s almost impossible to know what to expect from Wake Forest.

The Deacs have a new coach in Steve Forbes, an overhauled roster and only five games in so far with a major gap in play: they didn’t take the court from November 27th to December 31st. The first game back was against Catawba, basically a (re) tune-up, offensively challenged Georgia Tech basically shot holes into them and defensively masterful Virginia gave up over 50 percent on threes and overall.

Who the hell knows?

Plus Wake’s starting point guard is now Carter Whitt, a freshman from Raleigh who came aboard only after the holidays. He’s 6-4 and has some game, but it’s hard to tell how his chemistry with his new teammates has or will develop. Again, who the hell knows? We do know this: if the Cameron Crazies were in the stands, his hair would be a popular talking point.

Guard Daivien Williamson, a 6-2 transfer who followed Forbes from ETSU, is getting the most minutes. He’s a junior and a native of Winston-Salem so he’s well-versed in the ACC.

Second most minutes are going to Ian DuBose, a 6-4 grad transfer from Houston Baptist and a native of Durham.

The first familiar name is that of Isaiah Mucius, a 6-8 junior now, who’s playing fairly well in his new coach’s system, averaging 11.8 ppg and 5.2 rpg.

Ody Oguama is back as well and the 6-9 Raleigh native has also been competent, putting up 9 ppg and pulling down 4.7 rpg.

The next four guys in the rotation are Jonah Antonio, a sharp shooting Aussie who transferred from UNLV, Isaiah Wilkins, a Winston-Salem native who left Virginia Tech after last season, 6-3 Jahcoboi Neath, a sophomore who actually played for Wake last season, 6-6 Jalen Johnson (yes, they have one, too), a Durham native and a grad transfer from Tennessee and 6-8 Ismael Massoud, a returning sophomore.

So it’s going to be very hard to prepare for a team you’ve barely seen with a coach who, while he did amazingly well at ETSU, an underrated basketball school in a smaller conference, has no meaningful track record at the ACC’s level.

Still, we have some idea of what he’s after. At ETSU, he finished 30-4 last year. His team averaged 76.3 ppg, good for 47th nationally. We also know that previously he has built his teams with a lot of JUCO transfers, something Wake made clear to him he wouldn’t be able to do there.

No problem; he just got transfers and grad transfers instead and then got lucky when the NCAA issued a blanket waiver for transfers. So instead of the train wreck it looked like he would inherit when virtually all of Danny Manning’s players initially entered the transfer portal, he has a competent roster.

And we do know this as well: last year’s ETSU team had an average of 1.4 years of experience. So he managed to pull them together quickly and obviously well.

Finally, we know he assisted two coaches who, while talented and accomplished, both did unsavory things to succeed.

Gregg Marshall was his boss at Wichita State and was just recently forced out after his abusive personality was confirmed by multiple former players at both Wichita State and Winthrop. Given the severity of the allegations about him, Marshall may never coach again.

And second, Forbes coached for Bruce Pearl at Tennessee. Now at Auburn, Tennessee fired Pearl after NCAA violations were discovered. He was given a three-year show-cause penalty which made him untouchable for the duration.

After that, Auburn took a chance on him in 2014; four years later his assistant Chuck Person was arrested in the FBI’s case against Adidas. Pearl has not been directly implicated in the scandal but contractually he is responsible for it and if the NCAA comes down hard on Auburn he might lose his job again.

Like Pearl, Forbes wasn’t directly implicated in either the Marshall or Pearl-at-UT imbroglios and we’re sure that if Wake Forest thought he was they would never have taken a chance on him.

And as we said, he’s clearly a driven coach. He’s also a player’s coach and we expect guys will enjoy his style, particularly when he has enough talent to really go all out. We don't think he’s at that point yet, but given his proven abilities, a surprisingly reasonable talent level and Duke’s youth and rustiness as we saw against BC, does Wake have a shot Saturday?

Uh, yes. Yes, they do.

So Duke had better come prepared for a game.

One minor note, kind of forgotten in recent years. It’s very likely to snow on Saturday in Durham and for Duke, snow has long been a bit of a good luck charm. Coach K would no doubt say the best good luck is hard work and he’s right, but for the superstitious among you, snow can’t hurt.

One not-so-minor note that we expect most people aren’t considering: seven members of Wake’s roster hail from either the Triangle or Winston-Salem. We don't think any of them were seriously pursued by Duke coming out of high school. You can expect them to be highly jacked up for this game and a chance to poke a finger in Duke’s eye.

Last note: we’ll be adding more links as they become available.

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