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Next Up: Wake Forest

The resurgent Deacs will provide a definite challenge for Duke

Miami v Duke
 DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 08: Associate head coach Chris Carrawell talks with Trevor Keels #1 of the Duke Blue Devils during the first half of their game against the Miami Hurricanes at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 08, 2022 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images
  • Date: 1/12
  • Time: 7:00
  • Venue: Lawrence Joel Memorial Arena
  • Video: ACCN

The Duke-Wake Forest game this Wednesday was always going to be interesting but now it’s a lot more so.

Wake Forest has emerged as one of the better teams in the ACC and Duke has struggled in two games since Christmas after a Covid outbreak affected the entire team.

And unlike Georgia Tech and Miami, this game is on the road. And while the Joel has been somewhat muted in recent seasons as Wake has struggled, it’s a very tough place to play when it’s fully engaged.

Which it will be Wednesday night.

Steve Forbes has brought the dormant Deacs program back to life - Weak Forest is no more - and has some meaningful talent now too.

When he was hired, we assumed that Forbes was going to work the grad student market rather than the JUCO market he used so well at ETSU. Then the transfer rule changed and for that guy, it’s manna from heaven.

Of his top six players, five are transfers: Jake LaRavia, Alondes Williams, Daivien Williamson, Isaiah Mucius, Dallas Walton and Khadim Sy all started somewhere else. Other than Isaiah Mucius, you have to get down to Cameron Hildreth (freshman) and Carter Whitt (a second-year freshman) before you find guys who started in Winston-Salem. It’s a whole new world team.

LaRavia has turned out to be really good. A 6-8 transfer from Indiana State, he’s putting up 14.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 3.4 apg. He’s also out of Indianapolis powerhouse Lawrence Central High which has produced a lot of really good players over the years.

Alondes Williams, a 6-5 grad student, was a bit player at Oklahoma; now he’s averaging 20.4 ppg for Wake. He’s also a good rebounder with 6.7 per game which leads the team.

Daivien Williamson, a 6-1 hometown kid, who followed Forbes down from ETSU, is a senior averaging 12.9 ppg.

And Mucius, who has really been through the ringer at Wake Forest, is now a 6-8 senior averaging 10.3 ppg.

Those guys are the core of the offense. He also has Dallas Walton, a 7-0 transfer from Colorado, and 6-10 Khadim Sy, who started at Virginia Tech before taking the scenic route through college: he’s been to Daytona State and Ole Miss before returning to the ACC at Wake Forest. Cameron Hildreth, 6-4 and a bit unusual in that he’s a guard from Great Britain, and Carter Whitt, who played in the second semester last year after finishing up at Raleigh’s Leesville Road, round out the rotation.

At 13-3, Wake Forest is vastly improved over recent seasons but we still don’t know how good they are. Consider: they had close wins over Oregon State, Northwestern, VMI, Charlotte and Syracuse. Their losses came at the hands of LSU (75-61), Louisville (73-69) and Miami (92-84).

But we do know that Forbes is an excellent coach who can pull a roster together quickly and who likes to run and defend.

And can we say this about Forbes?

The guy is an absolute breath of fresh air. He’s utterly unpretentious, never takes himself too seriously and is funny to boot. As Wake continues to improve and his profile rises, he’s going to be a major addition to the conference.

As for Duke?

People got needlessly bent out of shape about the Miami loss. Duke was a heavy favorite - we recall it was listed at about -15 - which made no sense. First, it was a competitive ACC game because Miami, as we saw, is pretty good. And second, Duke was coming off a tough bout with Covid. Who the hell gave those odds? It was ludicrous.

Duke played poorly to say the least but it wasn’t a big surprise. It’s going to take a while to get back to full steam.

If we had to guess, we’d expect first that Duke’s Coach K would challenge his team’s toughness after Miami and second that he would try to simplify the offense for now. When you look at the turnovers in the Miami game, as Wendell Moore said, a lot of them were lazy passes. But some of them were just guys trying to make plays that, at that point, they could not do because they were playing tired.

That might still be an issue (by the way, like a lot of people we thought Duke might go deeper in the roster but that didn’t happen. And then we wondered...what if the most affected players were the guys who don’t play a lot?).

But whatever happens, we’re quite sure that, as much as is humanly possible, Duke will be ready for Wake Forest. That doesn’t mean a guaranteed win obviously. You can’t make that assumption even in the best of times. But playing hard? Even in the face of adversity?

We’re pretty sure that will happen. For the record, Draft Kings has Duke by -4.5.