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Next Up - Wake Forest

Wake Forest is a much more interesting team now than they were at the beginning of the season

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Pittsburgh
Jan 19, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Jeremy Roach (3) draws a blocking foul against Pittsburgh Panthers forward Abdoul Karim Coulibaly (12) during the first half at the Petersen Events Center.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Next up for Duke is Wake Forest and it’s an interesting game in many ways. For starters, Duke was vastly improved against NC State, Wake Forest has really showed a lot of heart this season, and how exactly will the Blue Devils react to the departure of Jalen Johnson?

We can’t say for sure about the last part but our hunch is it’s more likely to be an accelerant than a depressive. It’s hard to say though.

  • Date: 2/17
  • Time: 8:30
  • Venue: Lawrence Joel
  • Video: ACCN

We can say this though: Duke already knows it can beat Wake Forest without Johnson because they’ve already done it, having played the Deacs when he was out earlier in the season.

However, Wake Forest has made tremendous strides since then as Steve Forbes installs a new culture for the Demon Deacons. We’ve watched as he's taken a lightly regarded roster with many guys who didn’t seem that energized under Danny Manning and turned them into an aggressive, intense team that never gives up.

We really admire what he’s accomplished so far. There’s probably not enough talent to win a lot but there was enough heart to nearly knock off Florida State the other day - you know, the team that just beat the holy crap out of #9 Virginia?

The surprising thing about this game, really, is that Duke will have to match Wake Forest’s intensity and it’s been a very long time since we’ve had to say that.

The good news though is that Duke’s intensity has picked up a lot too as the young Blue Devils have started to figure things out.

Mark Williams is emerging as a major factor on defense and someone you can’t ignore on offense anymore, although he still has trouble going up strong under the basket. That’s more than negated by his impressive shot blocking and rebounding and opportunistic baskets. And he’s also a highly intelligent passer which we’re seeing more and more of. He’s been a real revelation.

Duke’s freshmen guards have also been improving. DJ Steward is still turnover prone but against Miami and NC State he only had one in each contest. His offense is generally better and he’s become more aggressive about seeking his shot. He’s also a sneaky good rebounder.

Jeremy Roach has also gotten better about turnovers, with Pitt the last time he had more than two. And while he only had two points against NC State, he had 16 against both UNC and Notre Dame.

As we saw earlier this season, Jaemyn Brakefield has a lot of skills and brings great energy, and it’s been a pleasure to see Henry Coleman coming on too.

The older guys - Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore and Jordan Goldwire - have generally played better lately as well. Joey Baker hasn't played as much recently but he always plays hard when he’s in.

In Durham, Wake got 17 from both Ismael Massoud and Davien Williamson. Duke shot better but Wake’s aggression showed in the foul-shot differential: Wake hit 18-21 while Duke only got to the line 10 times, hitting eight.

In that game, Hurt and Moore both picked up four fouls while Brakefield, who played 17 minutes, had three. Williams had two in just four minutes.

Duke will have to match Wake’s aggression without fouling and hopefully do that while playing the kind of defense we saw this past weekend at NC State.

Williams has become a game changer but Wake is a smaller team and he may or may not be as useful here. In the first game, Wake shot 6-20 from behind the line and 22-48 overall. That works out to 15 shots made inside the line out of 28 attempts or 53.5 percent on two pointers.

And that won't be as easy to do if Williams is guarding the lane as we’ve seen lately: he had four blocks against Miami in 16 minutes, three against UNC in 15, four against Notre Dame in 19 and five against NC State in 27.

With a guy who’s that long, it’s not just the shots he blocks but the shots he alters, too. Wake is not a huge team so Williams is a major problem inside.

What we most hope to see Wednesday though is more aggression from Duke, limited fouls, and hard-nosed defense. If we get those things, win or lose, Duke will have done well.