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Next Up - Wake Forest

As one of the ACC’s oldest rivalries roars back to life

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Wake Forest
 Jan 12, 2022; Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Wendell Moore Jr. (0) dribbles around Wake Forest Demon Deacons forward Isaiah Mucius (1) during the second half at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. 
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
  • Date: 2/15
  • Time: 7:00
  • Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium
  • Video: ESPN

Next up for Duke is a rematch with Wake Forest. The Blue Devils won up there (out there?) on January 12th 76-64. It was 29-29 before Duke erupted, building a large lead which Wake whittled down to 12 at the end.

You may also recall that Mark Williams got in foul trouble and wasn’t overly effective. AJ Griffin and Paolo Banchero did most of the damage with 22 and 24 points respectively.

Duke forced 15 turnovers and kept Wake to 12.5 percent on threes.

But as ACC fans know, you can throw all that out the window. Duke and Wake Forest is an ancient rivalry that has many twists and turns, including Wake teaming up Tim Duncan with He Who Must Not Be Named and just being a huge pain in the butt.

Wake has been down for some time of course. Neither Jeff Bzdelik or Danny Manning, both deeply introverted fellows, or at least not outgoing, ever really understood the Wake fan base and mentality. Wake has always been the least of the Big Four schools. We don’t say that to taunt; it’s just fact. Duke and UNC have always been the dominant ACC powers. UNC has six national championships even if two, arguably three should have asterisks (Frank McGuire was well-known for cheating and the academic scandal taints the 2005 and 2009 titles Roy Williams won). Hilariously, UNC likes to claim the 1924 Helms Championship, which was awarded quite a few years after the fact and 14 years before the NIT started in 1938. The NCAA started in 1939 which makes that a ridiculous claim.

But we digress.

Duke has five, none tainted, and NC State has two. And Wake? Wake Forest has one Final Four, back in 1962.

A lot has changed since 1962.

We don't say this to denigrate Wake Forest. We’ve always liked the Deacs. But they come to Big Four games with a chip on their shoulders, and woe be to any coach who doesn’t understand that mentality or the importance of knocking off Duke, UNC or NC State.

Steve Forbes is a unpretentious extrovert who recruited his current roster over Zoom which is an impressive accomplishment. He’s not above telling stupid jokes about his home state (What does Iowa stand for? Idiots Out Wandering Around) or putting Christmas lights and a winter hunting cap on for an interview.

He’s a real breath of fresh air and he seems like a pretty good fit for a Wake fan base that likes someone who really gets after the neighbors. You can’t change history of course, but it’s fun to wonder what Wake would have been like if the school had had the foresight to hire Davidson’s young Lefty Driesell in 1965 when Bones McKinney stepped down after a 12-15 year.

We really admire what Forbes has accomplished. It’s amazing, really. If you remember, he took over after Wake fired Manning quite late, and didn’t even have a press conference, just a video intro.

He made Wake competitive in short order, and this season? With a Zoom-recruited team?

He’s done an amazing job. If we had a vote we’d probably pick him for ACC Coach Of The Year. Who’s done better? Wake was 13-18 in Manning’s last year, 6-16 in the very challenging Covid season, and now? 20-6. That’s extremely impressive.

So is the talent.

Wake has a fairly solid rotation of nine players. Alondes Williams, who transferred in from Oklahoma, is a serious candidate for first team All-ACC and also ACC Player Of The Year. He’s a 6-5 athlete who is dangerous in so many ways.

Forbes has said that 6-8 Jake LaRavia is much better than he expected. He transferred from Indiana State, which gave the world Larry Bird. He’s not Bird good but he’s good. He made a block in the first Duke-Wake game that really surprised us. The guy can play.

Homeowner Daivien Willaimson, who followed Forbes down from ETSU, is also very capable. He’s smallish at 6-1 but he can heat up.

One of the few holdovers from last season is Isaiah Mucius. He’s not bad but last season he was asked to do too much. With more talent around him he’s vastly more dangerous.

Dallas Walton is a (very) big guy who transferred in from Colorado. He’s got a more complete offensive game than we originally realized and he helped get Williams in foul trouble last time out.

Khadim Sy is on his second ACC tour. He was at Virginia Tech, left for Dayton State, a JUCO, then decamped for Ole Miss. He’s baaaaaaack! And actually he’s not too bad. He’s much better now than he was as a Hokie.

Like Williamson, Damari Monsanto followed Forbes from ETSU but he had planned to sit out the season after an Achilles injury. Well that’s off: Monsanto has made a remarkable comeback. He’s a total wildcard this game and for all we know, he could have a massive impact. Props to him and the Wake staff for an amazing return.

Carter Whitt, who was so critical last season that he came mid-season, is not playing nearly as much, just 13.3 mpg. But he’s still a useful reserve and has plenty of time to develop.

Finally, there’s freshman Cameron Hildreth, who is a real rarity: a guard from England. Big guys from the Brits? Sure. Guards? Not so much. Name three. We’ll wait. We liked what we saw. He gets the game. He could use some experience but that’s happening. He could turn out to be pretty good.

Wake doesn’t really have great matchups in this game. Walton vs. Williams isn’t too bad given his bulk and outside shooting that will challenge Williams. The Deacs don’t have a great counter to Duke’s Paolo Banchero though who, basically, is a 6-10 guard who can go inside. Griffin went off in Winston-Salem, hitting 8-11. And Trevor Keels is also playing quite well lately. At 6-4 and 221, Keels is able to shoot outside or bully you inside. And he’s also a tremendous defender.

Which brings us to Wendell Moore and Jeremy Roach. Moore has matured into a really fine ballplayer. He’s an excellent defender and leader as well. And Roach has really turned it up lately as well.

Finally, more on the bench. Theo John has become a much better player of late. He had some back issues for awhile but in recent games, he’s as loose and limber as we’ve seen him. Joey Baker has become a much more complete player and Bates Jones is almost shockingly good. Certainly when he’s been called upon he’s delivered.

In general, Duke seems to be surging towards another level. Wake, as we’ve said, is quite good as well. All in all, it looks like quite a battle set for Cameron.