It’s finally here, folks! Non-conference tilts have come and gone and conference play is upon us. I, for one, am excited to see how the Tar Heels make their way through the ACC this season. This all will get underway on Saturday when the Wake Forest Demon Deacons visit the Smith Center for a noon tip-off on ESPN2. Without further ado, let’s look into the Deacs and how their season has progressed so far.
In his fourth season at the helm, head coach Danny Manning is coming off his only NCAA tournament appearance and Wake Forest’s first since a Second Round exit in Dino Gaudio’s final season in 2009-2010. The 2017-2018 season has been underwhelming, at best. Coming into Saturday, Wake Forest is sitting at 7-5 with early non-conference losses to Georgia Southern, Liberty, Drake, and Houston. After a six-game winning streak (including a win over Illinois), the Deacons most recent loss was a 19-point walloping at the hands of Tennessee to close out their non-conference schedule. According to the Times-News.com, that loss also saw the conference’s longest streak of double-figure scoring broken. Before a seven-point showing, Bryant Crawford had eclipsed the ten-point mark in 36-consecutive games.
As a team (according to sports-reference), Wake Forest is 53rd offensively with a rating of 113.2 per 100 possessions. They are averaging around 78 points per game on nearly 48% shooting. However, the Deacs are near the bottom in turnovers averaging just over 14 per game. Defensively, it is a different story, with Wake Forest close to the bottom with a 104.4 rating and allowing teams to score an average of 72 points per game on 43% shooting.
The Deacons are lead by junior guards Keyshawn Woods (16 ppg) and Bryant Crawford (15.2 ppg, 4.7 apg) along with seven-foot junior big man Doral Moore (10.5 ppg). Moore, an efficient shooter making 82% of his field goal attempts, also cleans up the lane by averaging just over seven rebounds and two blocks (he has 23 blocks already) per game.
The Tar Heels are currently sitting at 11-2. An early season ugly loss to powerhouse Michigan State and a nasty loss at the hands of Wofford are the only blemishes on the record. Wins over Power Five foes in Stanford, Arkansas, Michigan, Tennessee and Ohio State boost their 6th ranked Sagarin Rating to 91.3 (compared to top-ranked Villanova’s rating of 94.7 and third-ranked Duke at 92.9).
According to sports-reference, North Carolina has an offensive rating of 113.8 points over 100 possessions. A high scoring team, they are 22nd in Division I scoring 86 points per game on 48% shooting. Defensively, the Tar Heels are holding teams to 72 points per game on 40% shooting. Interestingly, North Carolina is committing 13 turnovers per game but are only forcing their opponents into 13 turnovers per game (their actual turnover margin is +0.52).
By now, you may have heard that Luke Maye is having himself one ‘heckuva’ junior season. He currently leads the scoring (18.5 ppg) and rebounds (10.5 rpg) and is third in assists (2.4 apg). Of the three Tar Heels who have taken at least 100 field goal attempts (Maye, Joel Berry II, and Kenny Williams), Maye leads with 52.8% made (to be fair, Williams is close behind with 52.2%). Berry (17.3 ppg) and Williams (12.4 ppg) are North Carolina’s other offensive threats. Cameron Johnson has only played in two games, but he is averaging 12 points in both of his contests. Theo Pinson, along with his nine points per game, is the distributor of the team doling out just over four assists per game.
Of those remaining, Jalek Felton has been surprisingly good when spelling Berry at the point. Brandon Robinson and Andrew Platek have played some of the minutes that Seventh Woods gave up when he went down to injury. Those minutes may be taken by the return of Cameron Johnson, but they should still see time.
The “Baby Bigs” are trying to grow up quickly. Sterling Manley has been impressive, but Garrison Brooks is still the starter. Brandon Huffman has added in some valuable play as well and I fully expect him to pull a rim down before his career is over. They will have their hands full with Wake’s Doral Moore.
North Carolina has opened ACC play against Wake Forest three times under Roy Williams. The result?
This is the third time UNC has opened ACC play against Wake Forest under Roy Williams. The Tar Heels lost the first two times: in triple overtime at home in the 2003-04 season and at Winston Salem in the 2013-14 season.— R.L. Bynum (@RL_Bynum) December 28, 2017
North Carolina has had a few games where they get off to a slow start. However, in this game, the Tar Heels will find their stroke early and often. That doesn’t mean that the Demon Deacons will go away quietly. In the end, North Carolina pulls away to earn a 1-0 ACC record by a 86-78 margin.