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The Big Preview: Virginia returns against Wake Forest at JPJ

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NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

This season just gets stranger and stranger. The Virginia Cavaliers have had five games cancelled or postponed, including this past weekend’s game against Virginia Tech. Things haven’t been any better for Wake Forest, who have had two games cancelled and three games postponed (including the previously scheduled game between these two teams originally scheduled for Dec 16). Things don’t seem likely to settle down either.

This game appears likely to go on, but Virginia may not be at full strength. Luckily, Virginia is one of the deepest teams in the nation. Eight different players have started at least two games already this season and only Jay Huff and Sam Hauser have started every game. Losing one of those two would be a big impact, but Virginia has the bodies to fill out the rotations.

In part because of all the scheduling issues, Wake Forest have played just three games against DI opponents. (They also played a game against Catawba College, a DII school not far from Winston-Salem.) They are 2-1, with wins over two low-majors and a road loss to Georgia Tech.

In that loss, Wake Forest shot just 3/20 (15%) from downtown. That’s a weakness of this team, and probably a relief to Virginia fans. They lit it up (14/31 45%) against Delaware State in their opener. But that seems like an anomaly. Even against DII Catawba, they were just 6/23 (26%). That game was closer than expected with the Deacons winning by just eight.

We’ve seen in the past, but especially this year, that defending the three point line can be a weakness of the Pack Line. Teams that can play five-out with shooters, such as Gonzaga, can cause problems.

That does not describe the Deacons. Five Wake Forest players have attempted at least two treys per game, but only two of those could be described as successful. Jonah Antonio (a transfer from UNLV via Mount St Mary’s) leads the group at 8/19 (42%) on the season but was 0/5 against Georgia Tech.

If that name, Jalen Johnson, seems familiar to you, it’s because there is another Jalen Johnson who is a freshman for Duke. No relation. This Jalen Johnson was a four-star recruit for the Vols, but never amounted to much. He’s a good perimeter defender though and a decent shooter (36% career).

PG Nacobi Neath may can shoot it, but just doesn’t shoot much. He hit 12/25 (40%) last season but has attempted just three through four games. He’s 1-for-3.

The Demon Deacons’ leading scorer is Isaiah Mucius, also the leading rebounder. He’s 6’8”, 200 and has some inside-outside game. He probably shoots a few too many treys, but he knocked down 35% last season. He’s 1/13 so far this year. Ishmael Massoud, another “stretch-big”, made 40% last year but is just 4/12 so far this season. Massoud has moved to the bench in favor of Ody Oguama, who did not play in the first two games. He’s a better defensive presence and helped Wake improve on the interior.

This is Longwood’s 6’7” big man scoring inside with ease on Massoud. Early on, Wake just couldn’t stop teams inside. Both Longwood and Catawba played the Deacons even on the inside, which shouldn’t happen to an ACC team. Oguama improves the defense and provides more of a presence. But that also, potentially, removes a shooter against the Pack Line.

It also opens things up for Virginia’s inside-outside game. This year’s Wahoo team is very strong inside. They are shooting over 58% on inside shots (17th nationally) and that opens things up on the outside.

Notre Dame showed a lot of zone against the Hoos, not something we should see from Wake Forest. But this is a good example of the interior presence leaving open shots. Morsell is wide open. Look at Huff wide open at the top of the key.

Here’s another one, this time against a man defense. It starts with a post-up from Hauser, but the result is the same. Huff is wide open at the top of the key because the opposing big man doesn’t want to stray too far from the rim. Oguama may help slow down Virginia’s inside game, but that could just open up the outside game.

Being short-handed in a conference game is not ideal. We don’t know exactly which, if any, Wahoo players are unavailable. But it’s at home, and Wake Forest is, possibly, the worst of the ACC teams (lowest ranked ACC team by KenPom). So the Hoos should be able to hold off the Deacons even if they aren’t at full strength.