Coming off the best win in 2 1/2 years under head coach Jeff Bzdelik mid-week vs. #18 N.C. State, the Demon Deacons need to validate their home victory with a win on the road in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon.
Head coach Jeff Bzdelik finally got a signature win for the first time in 2 1/2 years. While it took much longer than most of us as fans wanted, it is undeniable that the win over #18 N.C. State (preseason favorites in the ACC), was a good win for this years team. What the Demon Deacons need to do now is something that they have not done since 2004, defeat the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at home.
This is a HUGE game for Wake Forest for several reasons. It goes beyond just the losing streak that Wake Forest has endured at the Thriller Dome (now McCamish Pavilion). The Deacs have won just one ACC road game in Jeff Bzdelik's tenure (a 71-56 victory over Boston College in the Conte Forum last year), and if my math is correct, are just 1-18 on the road in the ACC the past three years.
The freshmen took huge strides on Tuesday night, most notably Devin Thomas, who compiled a stat-line seen only 4 other times in the past 15 years in the NCAA (25 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks and 3 steals. It is now time to see the entire team convert this momentum into a road trip.
It's one thing to win against Boston College and Virginia at home in back-to-back games. It's another thing entirely to go on the road an win in the ACC, especially this year, where as of this post road teams are just 9-21 in the conference in this year, the 2nd lowest percentage of any conference in the country this year (behind only the Big South Conference).
The optimism that people are starting to feel about this team would go along way with a win on Saturday. A loss would continue the trend this season of a high followed by a low. It will be no easy feat to go into Atlanta and win though. The Yellow Jackets are 8-2 at home this year, although they have lost their past two games at the Pavilion to Miami and Virginia Tech respectively.
Georgia Tech has come onto hard times recently, starting 0-5 in the ACC after facing the hardest in-conference schedule so far. Their loss to Virginia Tech in Atlanta was a bad one but the other four teams they have faced are the top four in the ACC. It will be no easy feat to go into Atlanta and win though. The Yellow Jackets are 8-2 at home this year, although they have lost their past two games at the Pavilion to Miami and Virginia Tech respectively.
I watched a good bit of the Yellow Jackets loss last night in Chapel Hill, where they continued to struggle on the offensive end (now dead last in the conference with an 84.4 adjusted offensive rating in conference, 11th is Maryland at 90.1). Their defense was where they hung their hat early in the season, but that too has struggled along to an 8th place adjusted efficiency at 101.8.
The Yellow Jackets are a just below average tempo team (66.3 possessions, NCAA average is 66.7), and struggle greatly in the half-court offense as well. Their 94.4 adjusted offensive efficiency overall is 254th in the country. They do protect the ball well, but don't shoot well or get to the free throw line very much.
Coach Brian Gregory relies on getting the ball inside to Kam Holsey and big man Daniel Miller. Their two-headed freshman monster of Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter has provided room for optimism with the fan base. Carter ranks second in the conference to Devin Thomas in rebounds per game for freshmen. Jason Morris and Mfon Udofia look to be the only two threats 3-point shooting-wise at 42 and 35% respectively.
On paper it seems that the Deacs match up well with the Yellow Jackets, as our strengths (interior perimeter defense and getting to the free throw line) are areas that can be exploited when the game begins.
I am pretty excited to see Devin Thomas go up against Robert Carter, two of the best interior freshmen in the conference this year. If Thomas can build on his game from Tuesday night it will go a long way for the Deacs in providing a third option to help on Travis and CJ.
Ken Pomeroy has the Yellow Jackets winning 65-58 (75%), but I actually think the Deacs have a much better chance that 25% to win the game. Wake Forest is still a bit underrated because of how KP rates freshmen, and Georgia Tech has been in a free fall recently. This is a golden chance to get back to above .500 for the Deacs heading into a tough three game stretch (Duke, @Maryland, @UNC). It would also provide a validation win after the upset victory on Tuesday night over the Pack.
If nothing else, a victory would provide yet another boost of confidence to a young team, as well as a fan base that is craving for relevancy after two years of hardship.