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Virginia hopes to stop losing skid against Wake Forest: THE BIG PREVIEW

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Wake Forest has a dude shooting 60% from the field. Whelp.

NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia’s offense has been up and down this year, but the defense was supposed to be the constant. On Wednesday, that defense gave up 1.28 points per possession against Pitt on the road, while also giving up 40% of offensive rebounds. They offense wasn’t bad, but the youngsters struggled, as did Marial Shayok. It was a poor performance all around, but was it a one-off or will it continue into the rest of the ACC schedule?

Now, the Hoos return home and face Wake Forest. If you’ll recall, the Hoos pulled out a miraculous comeback win over Wake last year in Winston-Salem. They also swept Wake Forest in 2015, winning by just 1 at home but winning 70-34 in Winston-Salem. The last time the Deacons won in Charlottesville was a 64-61 OT win way back in 2010.

This year’s Wake Forest team is their best team since that 2010 team. They currently rank 45th on Ken Pom and are 10-5 (1-2 ACC). They’ve lost to the five best teams they’ve played, while their best win is a road win over College of Charleston. Though their defense is suspect, the Deacs are winning with offense, as one of the better shooting teams in the country, including nearly 40% from beyond the arc. Combine that with being very good FT shooting team, and Wake Forest is the 24th best offense in the country right now. They also play pretty quick, at over 70 possessions per game.

They are led in scoring by 6’10” 235 lb sophomore John Collins. He’s a beast inside and has a strong mid-range face up game. He is shooting 60% from the field, averaging about 16 points and almost 10 rebounds per game. He’s also a good shot blocker, though he isn’t he a great one-on-one defender. Of course, as we know, that doesn’t really matter against the Hoos. As a freshman last year, Collins played just 15 minutes per game and averaged 7 and 4. He showed flashes, but was stuck behind senior Devin Thomas.

The rest of the team is all perimeter players. Five Demon Deacons average at least three 3-point attempts per game and as a team they take about 36% of their shots from downtown. That includes PF Dinos Mitoglou, a 6’10” Greek who has given the Hoos fits in the past. In 2015, he almost single-handedly took down the Hoos in Charlottesville, shooting 6/12 from downtown. He’s a 35% shooter for his career, but he’s shooting a career best 39% this year, which ranks him only fourth on the team.

The two starting wings, Mitchell Wilbekin and Keyshawn Woods, are shooting a combined 44% from downtown. Woods is a transfer from Charlotte, and sat out last year. He’s a good all-around player who can get to the rim and pass and is also shooting 46% from three, which will leave Devon Hall with his hands full. Wilbekin, on the other hand, is just a shooter and at 6’2” 175 is a much more comfortable matchup for Guy/Thompson than Pitt’s wings were.

Over the past few years, Wake was led by PG Cody Miller-McIntyre. He’s gone now (playing in Belgium) and has been replaced by sophomore Bryant Crawford. Crawford might be better than Miller-McIntyre ever was. He’s a better shooter and scorer and he’s more athletic. He’s a good defender, but so was Miller-McIntyre. Crawford is also a very good passer. The Hoos will also see Brandon Childress at PG. He is the son of former Wake Forest SG Randolph Childress, who played briefly in the NBA and is currently as assistant coach under Danny Manning. The younger Childress is a pure PG who is a bit on the small side, but he’s quick and smart.

There are two other rotation guys. One is 6’6” wing Austin Arians. He’s a shooter, much like Wilbekin, but he’s 6’6” 230, so he presents a tougher matchup. The other is 7-footer Doral Moore. Moore was one of the top prep prospects last year, but hasn’t had much impact on the floor yet. He had a couple of good games last year, but has yet to play more than 15 minutes this year or score more than 6 points. He’s been relegated to the bench because of the emergence of Collins, but also because he gets into foul trouble too often. He’s also struggled to stay in shape.

The Hoos faced a hot shooting Pitt team on Wednesday and kept it close despite the Panthers 60% clip from downtown. Wake certainly is capable of hitting outside shots in bunches, as the Hoos witnessed in 2015 in Charlottesville. But Wake is also capable of going cold from outside, as the Hoos also witnessed in 2015 in Winston-Salem. Coming back home will be a boost to the Hoos spirits. If Wake is hot from outside, it’ll be a tough one for the Hoos. But the Hoos have the advantage at every position other than under center and should be able to hold off the Deacons.

Tipoff is Sunday, January 8 at 8:00 p.m. ET at John Paul Jones Arena. You’ll be able to watch it on ESPNU.