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Next Up - Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons are playing well and present some real problems for Duke.

Boston College v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 10: Jared McCain #0 of the Duke Blue Devils drives with the ball during the first half of the game against the Boston College Eagles at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 10, 2024 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Date 2/12 || Time 7:00 || Venue Cameron Indoor Stadium || Video ESPN

Next up for Duke is Wake Forest and that’s one of those rivalries that predates the ACC, going back to the Southern Conference days.

Back in the old days, Wake Forest was still in Wake Forest and the rivalries in what would become the Triangle were very intense. Of course, Wake Forest moved to Winston-Salem when the Reynolds Foundation made a number of large gifts and built the Reynolda campus and the magic that might have been with the Big Four all in the Triangle was gone.

Wake Forest has, for the most part, been outside of that dynamic basically since the ACC started. But they do have a beautiful campus and the basketball is still pretty good.

Wake is not on the level of Duke and UNC historically, or NC State for that matter, but it’s always been a feisty program that is capable of beating anyone and it’s certainly capable of beating Duke Monday night.

Since taking over from Danny Manning during the dark days of the pandemic, Steve Forbes has done a solid job.

In his first season, remember, he took over late and could not really recruit. That team finished 6-16 but notably improved.

His second team won 25 games and last year, the Demon Deacons finished 19-14.

We’ve talked before about how some coaches will emerge in this era who can use the transfer portal and NIL to build teams extremely quickly. Think of guys like Eric Musselman, Shaka Smart and Lamont Paris, who is doing an incredible job at South Carolina in Year II.

Well, Forbes is one of those guys.

Mikę Krzyżewski at one point noticed this and said that he has a real knack for identifying guys who will work in his system and that he can incorporate them quickly too.

No question.

This year, Forbes brought in Kevin Miller (Florida) and Hunter Sallis and Efron Reid (both from Gonzaga). All three are starters. Sallis is the leading scorer while Miller leads in assists and steals and since Reid became eligible, Wake Forest is 12-4. So no surprise, but it seems like Coach K was spot on.

This is also impressive: those guys were incorporated into the team and rotation with no apparent jealousy or tension.

Aside from those three, Wake also starts Andrew Carr, who is a bit wispy but still a useful big man with an instinct for the clutch. He hit a game winner against Appalachian State last year and this weekend he hit a big shot against NC State with :17 left. He’s a gutty kid.

Cameron Hildreth rounds out the rotation and we love that guy. He’s a British guard, which you really don’t see that often. His teammate, Matthew Marsh is also British, but he’s 7-0 and that’s and easy sell for any basketball team.

What we really like about Hildreth is that he’s 6-4 and thinks he’s a power forward. He - and we mean this in the best way possible - just beats the hell out of whoever is guarding him. He’s a wonderful player. Any coach would love to have him.

Before gutting the win out against State, Wake Forest put together 29 point wins over Syracuse and Georgia Tech and Sallis, who averaged four-and-change at Gonzaga, is getting 18.5 with the Deacons.

Wake Forest presents a few real dilemmas for Duke. The Blue Devils have had an advantage against some teams with smaller backcourts. With Tyrese Proctor and Caleb Foster who are both 6-5 and Jared McCain, who is 6-3 but plays bigger, the Blue Devils have been able to lock down some backcourts.

Well, Sallis and Hildreth are both 6-5 and Hildtreth, as noted, is very physical and Miller presents a different challenge. Just 6-0, he’s exceedingly quick.

But the bigger problem is up front.

Reid is 7-0, Carr is 6-10 and Marsh is 7-1. Freshman Zach Keller is also 6-10.

Duke counters with Kyle Filipowski (7-0), Mark Mitchell (6-9), Ryan Young (6-9) and, increasingly, Sean Stewart (also 6-9).

Mitchell had a brilliant game against Boston College on both ends of the court and Filipowski less so. Amazingly, he had just one rebound against BC while McCain, who is nine inches shorter, had 10, including three offensive. Proctor and Roach out rebounded him. So did Stewart and Caleb Foster.

Don’t think he hasn’t heard about this and we can promise you that Wake Forest has noticed too.

At his best, Filipowski brings a lot to the court. He’s strong, he’s an excellent shot and he has become an outstanding passer too. And normally, he’s an excellent rebounder.

Where he’s not as good is scoring inside when he’s contested. You’ve seen him doing a sort of step-back/fade away lately and that’s because when he can’t get a defender to bite on a fake, he hasn’t developed many options to get around the fact that he doesn't get very far off the floor.

It’s not the end of the world. Plenty of guys who can’t jump have become great players, notably Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Christian Laettner couldn’t exactly fly and neither could Danny Ferry.

For that matter, neither could Steve Kerr, who had a remarkable NBA career, or Luc Longley or John Havlicek or Maurice Lucas or Kurt Rambis or Charles Oakley or...well, you get the idea.

It’s not a fatal flaw. Filipowski just has to find ways to compensate. One trick in his bag is that he has a stunning spin move. Honestly, we’re not sure we’ve ever seen a big man in person who has a better spin move than Filipowski. The first time we saw it we were stunned.

But last year he kept trying to do it when guards were around and he got stripped a lot. This year, he has learned discretion and it’s basically an unstoppable move. As he continues to develop his game, he’ll learn other ways to do this. And he can also shoot outside.

It’s obviously key that he stay out of foul trouble.

His back up, to this point anyway, has been Young. Duke fans love him because he often punches above his weight. He’s wicked smart and he occasionally has a huge impact.

Stewart is coming on fast though.

Against Notre Dame, he played 11 minutes to Young’s 16 and against Boston College, he played more than his older teammate with 12 minutes to Young’s five.

This is very good news for Duke.

As we noted earlier in the season, as talented as Stewart is, he was highly unpredictable. Things happened when he was in but it was kind of like having a mounted machine gun only the mount was not working. You had no idea what was going to happen.

Lately though, Stewart has really come on and, as discussed previously, he does things that no one else on this roster can do. Defensively, he could solve a lot of problems. He’s not as tall as Dereck Lively but he broke Zion Williamson’s vertical leap record. He’s plenty tall enough to guard the paint.

Offensively, he’s still a work in progress, but he can get loose for an alley-oop or a follow-up basket. He has the potential to really change this team.

And it was very encouraging this week to listen to Jon Scheyer talk about how we can’t see him in practice, but that he works as hard or harder than anyone and that he comes in a lot to shoot free throws (good thing - he’s currently hitting 47.1 percent).

So as we said, Wake Forest presents some challenges for Duke. However, the Blue Devils may have some solutions. Stewart is one. Another may be Jaylen Blakes.

Given the physicality and size of Wake Forest’s guards, we can easily imagine Blakes being a critical factor for Duke.

We haven’t really talked a lot about the bench Forbes has but freshman Parker Friedrichsen is going to be good. A 6-3 freshman out of Oklahoma, like Virginia Tech’s Sean Pedulla and Georgia Tech legend Mark Price, he’s getting about 18 minutes a game and has made an impression.

Keller is getting 12.3 mpg. Freshman Marquis Marion came with a reputation for rebounding so keep an eye on that.

And senior Damari Monsanto has made not one but two remarkable recoveries from injuries. In his recent return against Louisville, he electrified Wake Forest fans, hitting 4-6 from three point range.