No. 8 Duke takes a trip down I-40 to take on what could be the best Wake Forest team that we have seen in over a decade, led by Alondes Williams.
TV schedule: Wednesday, Jan. 12 – 7:00 PM ET, ACC Network
Arena: LJVM Coliseum – Winston-Salem, NC
Mike Krzyzewski’s farewell tour makes its final stop in Winston-Salem on Wednesday as No. 8 Duke takes on a Wake Forest team that is off to its best start since the 2008-09 season. The Demon Deacons are 13-3 on the season and coming off of back-to-back wins over Florida State and Syracuse. They are 3-2 in league play as they also own a 19-pt road win over Virginia Tech.
Duke is 12-2 on the season with statement wins over both Gonzaga and Kentucky, although they are coming off of their worst performance of the year in a home loss to Miami.
There is an argument to be made that the three favorites for ACC Player of the Year are all in this game, with Wendell Moore Jr. (16.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.9 apg) and Paolo Banchero (17.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg) for Duke and Alondes Williams (20.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.1 apg) for Wake Forest.
Banchero is a projected top-three pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, and for good reason. Moore has improved as much as any player in the country, transforming his body and his jump shot to go from a role player to a legitimate All-American.
Williams is averaging 23.0 points, 7.9 boards, and 6.0 assists over the last month for Wake Forest. He is a terrific athlete but is also as crafty an offensive player as there is in the country, highlighted by his elite vision and passing ability.
Duke and Wake Forest have played 179 times since 1949, the second most-played rivalry for the Blue Devils, behind UNC of course, and the most-played rivalry for the Deacs. Duke owns a 122-57 all-time lead in the series and is 31-7 over the last 20 seasons. Krzyzewski is 57-26 in his career against WFU.
All seven of Wake Forest’s wins in the last 20 years have come at home in The Joel, which is where Wednesday’s game will take place. Also, as mentioned above, this is the best team we have seen from Wake in over a decade, a testament to Steve Forbes’ coaching ability in just his second season with the team.
Duke and Wake Forest are excellent shooting teams as both rank in the top 25 nationally in effective field goal percentage. A glaring advantage that Wake will have in this game is its experience. The Deacs top six rotation players consist of a super-senior, four seniors, and a junior while Duke only has three upperclassmen in the top eight of its rotation. This lack of experience is not overly concerning for Duke, though, as Coach K has handled younger teams like this for the last decade, with great success I might add.
On the injury and availability front, Wake will return its third-leading scorer in Daivien Williamson (12.9 ppg), who had missed the team’s last two games in COVID-19 protocols. Williamson’s ability to create offense off the dribble is incredibly valuable as it takes some of the pressure off of Alondes Williams, who has the third-highest usage rating in the ACC.
This is an incredibly difficult game to pick for a couple of different reasons. On the one hand, it seems implausible that a Final Four caliber Duke team would lose back-to-back games to unranked teams after being the No. 2 team in the nation.
On the other hand, I do believe that this Wake Forest team is a legitimate NCAA Tournament team that should have received some votes for the AP Top 25 this past week. They have arguably the best player in the conference, are incredibly well-coached, and have an excellent and underrated home-court advantage in LJVM.
I would personally suggest not betting on this game—just enjoy it for the rejuvenated rivalry that it is, which will almost certainly go down to the wire with All-American level players battling it out on both sides.