Friday, January 22, 2010

game preview: Wake Forest

One of the best things about sucking for a little bit and then snapping out of it and winning some games you maybe weren't supposed to is that people start to pay attention. And then you get some of that sweet sweet coverage you've been dying for all this time, and neat stuff to read about your team. It started last weekend and hasn't stopped. There's a fairly formulaic "everyone's surprised but us" kind of article over at Yahoo, which also has some interesting stat comparisons between this year and last. I've been tempted to write up just such a stat comparison, but purposely avoided it because it's too soon - the easy part of our schedule is out of the way and the hard part is mostly yet to come, so the lessons you can learn are limited.

You also get some Sylven Landesberg fluff from, but actually some really worthwhile fluff, better than usual. Recommended reading. And Jay Bilas sends a little love for the way the Hoos have taken care of the ball. Winning the turnover battle: definitely a plus.

Fortunately, you know Tony Bennett won't be letting his team bask in the accolades, because nobody's gonna remember that you led the conference in January. Toughest game of the ACC season so far is tomorrow. One of the toughest all season, in fact.

I've long thought Wake is a highly legit contender for the tournament, because they're very well rounded. Aminu can destroy you from inside, Ish Smith can destroy you off the dribble, and C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart will destroy you with long-range artillery. This isn't Georgia Tech, where they think they can shoot three-balls and can't. Nor is it VT, where seven guys sit around for 40 minutes waiting for three guys to score. They're also extraordinarily solid on defense, ranked 19th in KenPom's adjusted defense rankings. We might look like we're doing a great job of holding down the opponent's scoring, but when you take tempo out of the equation as KenPom does, Wake is way better on a per-possession basis - 19th in the country, in fact. (We're 104th.) Tough.

You might remember, back when Tony Bennett was hired, that some notes were made that another team in the ACC had been picking his brain (and his dad's) for pointers on how to run that pack-line of his. That's these guys here, and it's been a big success. Dino Gaudio likes KenPom too, by the way, and likes even more the massive improvement his team has made using the pack-line. Should be interesting, as both teams will have that seen-it-in-practice-like-every-fricking-day advantage when they bring the ball up the court. Wake's been using the system longer than we have, but they've been learning it from the apprentice, not the master. Bennett goes bonkers in practice when someone gives up a baseline drive, because it ruins what the defense is trying to do - bet you anything one of our guys tries to go baseline sometime early, just to see what happens.

Not that Wake is a complete machine. Dino Gaudio might have brought in Tony Bennett's pack-line defense, but not his insistence that you take care of the ball. Wake has an absolutely brutal A/T ratio - .81 and 241st in the country (we're 14th, which is nice) and their turnover margin is equally sucky. Ish can dish for sure, but he also can be a little crazy with the ball sometimes, and you can bet he won't spend a minute on the court not being hounded by Jontel Evans or Mustapha Farrakhan, both of whom have a special way with annoying other people's point guards.

All in all, though, it's hard to predict a win here. Honestly, this is the first real road test of the ACC season - students were on break at NC State and it was like a mausoleum. For a Saturday afternoon game against a team just coming off a demolition of UNC, I expect a madhouse. A loss here will probably make the pundits go, "yup, that sounds about right," and they'll go back to following Kentucky and wondering if the Pac-10 can somehow squeeze a second team into the NCAA tournament. Find a way to somehow win, and we really will be legit.

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