This coming Saturday afternoon, Jan. 28, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons take on the Duke Blue Devils at home at 3:00 p.m. in what is shaping up to be a pivotal matchup as we approach the midway point of ACC play.
As of now, both teams stand in the middle of the pack of the ACC standings, which is a fairly pleasant surprise for the Deacs and a huge disappointment for the Blue Devils. Entering the season, these two teams had vastly different expectations. For the Demon Deacons, a successful season would have been defined by competing in the ACC and potentially making the NCAA Tournament in March. Duke, on the other hand, came into the season as the preseason No. 1 ranked team in the AP Poll and had very legitimate National Championship aspirations.
Instead, we find ourselves in a very different situation entering the first matchup between Duke and Wake Forest this season. Following a Duke loss to NC State earlier this week and a Wake Forest loss to Syracuse on Tuesday, January 24, both teams sit right in the middle of the ACC standings at 8th and 10th place, respectively.
For the Blue Devils, this has been a wildly disappointing season filled with bizarre controversies, thus far. After bringing in the nation’s top recruiting class, highlighted by five-star recruits Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, and adding that to a team with Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and fifth-year senior Amile Jefferson, Duke was ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll but quickly dropped after falling to Kansas early in the year.
The real start of Duke’s downward spiral this season, however, began about a month ago in a win against Elon. During the first half of the contest, an Elon player drove to the basket and Allen, fouled him on the way and tripped him, prompting an indefinite suspension from the team by Coach Krzyzewski. Duke promptly lost their following game in a shocking upset in Blacksburg, VA, at Virginia Tech.
Two days later, Coach K announced the termination of Allen’s suspension and that Krzyzewski himself would be taking an indefinite leave of absence for back surgery, making Associate Head Coach Jeff Capel the interim head coach. They won their next two, but then dropped two in a row on the road, at Florida State and at Louisville. After knocking off lowly Miami in its next game in a comeback win at home, Duke had its worst loss of the season, an 84-82 loss at home in Cameron Indoor Stadium to NC State.
Saturday’s game here at Wake Forest is shaping up to be one of Duke’s most important games of the season as they look to avoid their second two-game losing streak. Coach K’s return cannot seem to come soon enough for the surprisingly struggling Blue Devils team that cannot seem to find its identity.
This game could also prove very pivotal for Wake Forest. A win against Duke could drastically improve Wake Forest’s resume given their currently slim NCAA Tournament hopes. Winners of two of their past three, which very easily could have been three of their past three, the Deacs are right in the middle of the ACC standings. Right now, the Deacons need to take every win they can get, which makes Tuesday’s heartbreaking 81-76 loss at Syracuse even tougher to swallow. As we have seen a few times already this season, Wake Forest has had a lot of trouble finishing close games, and they let their lead slip away in the final minutes Tuesday at the Carrier Dome.
I expect this game between the Deacs and the Devils on Saturday afternoon is shaping up to be a great and competitive game. Considering neither team plays particularly strong defense, this should be a high scoring affair. Wake Forest’s star power-forward, John Collins, should have another great game against Duke’s weak interior defense, and Duke’s star guards, Kennard and Allen will get their healthy share of buckets on offense. I think this game will come down to who wants it more down the stretch, as all indications point to a close game.
Sadly, I think the Blue Devils will narrowly edge out a win over our Deacs, as they would be unable to deal with the embarrassment of back-to-back losses for the second time this season, especially to perennial ACC cellar dwellers NC State and Wake Forest.
Hopefully Wake can prove my prediction wrong on Saturday.