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THE BIG PREVIEW: Virginia vs. Wake Forest

The Hoos are back on the road Sunday night.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers play their second straight road game, facing off against the 6-10 Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Wake is 1-5 in the ACC, with its lone home win being over Syracuse. None of their losses are bad, though certainly would’ve liked to beat Virginia Tech at home. Wake has just one top-100 win, coming over Illinois in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. They’ve lost to Liberty (KenPom 177), Georgia Southern (112) and Drake (164). The Deacons have lost five straight, including a Thursday night loss at NC State.

This Wake Forest team is a strong offensive unit who not only can spread the floor with shooters, but who also have two 7-footers that can play in the middle. One of those is Doral Moore, who is averaging 9.5 points and 8 rebounds per game to go along with 2.2 blocks. He’s shooting 72% from the field...and 46% from the free throw line. Moore averaged just 8 minutes per game last year, but that team had NBA first-round pick John Collins. As you might expect, most of Moore’s points are coming on dunks, often off the offensive glass. The other 7 footer is freshman Frenchman Olivier Sarr, who is a bit like Jay Huff. A skilled big man, but not quite ready for prime time. Sarr actually played 25 minutes against the Wolfpack on Thursday, as Wake went big for much of the game to counter NCSU’s inside presence. Predictably, Sarr fouled out as he averages nearly 7 fouls per 40 minutes.

Despite having all that size, 75% of their points come from the backcourt. The leading scorer is PG Bryant Crawford, at 16 points per game. He’s a bit like Ty Jerome, but looks for his shot more. Similar in size and athleticism, both are heady guys who stay under control all the time. Crawford scores more because that’s what he’s asked to do. Both are also willing defenders with quick hands and good footwork.

Beyond Crawford, the rotation is interesting. Second-leading scorer Keyshawn Woods doesn’t start, but is second in minutes per game. Senior Mitchell Wilbekin starts at the 2, but he and Woods actually share the court quite a bit. Brandon Childress is the backup PG, but also shares the court with Crawford (with the latter moving off the ball). Four Deacons average 25 minutes per game, and all four are guards. Wilbekin is really the only senior on the team, and he’s the best shooter on the team. He doesn’t do a whole lot other than shoot though.

Freshman Chaundee Brown has started 15 out of 16 games on the wing (he also missed one due to a minor foot injury), but averages under 20 minutes per game. He scores just 7 points per game and did not score in seven minutes against NC State. He has shown some promise including 20 points against BC with six treys. He’s at 35% from downtown, but just 37% overall. He’s got some ability, but has to improve his game.

Woods is a strong shooter (43% on the season, 45% for his career), but his real strength is slashing and getting to the rim in transition. When he and Crawford are on the floor together, their ability to score in many ways makes them a dangerous offensive team. This is especially true when Childress is running the show. While not the scorer that Crawford is, Childress may be a better distributor. He struggles with turnovers, which is one reason he doesn’t start. Childress has shot 35% from downtown in his two years, so the Hoos will defend him tight. He struggles to finish inside, so the threat of a blow-by is minimized.

If he wants to, Manning can spread the floor with shooters around a very good and very big inside guy. That includes both Childress and Crawford, giving him two distributors on the floor. He sacrifices some rebounds, but Moore is good enough to hold his own in that regard.

Tony Bennett, of course, has a four guard alignment of his own. A lineup of Jerome, Guy, Hall, Hunter, and Wilkins matches up nicely around the perimeter. Wilkins did a good job Thursday night against Ben Lammers. Moore is big on another level from Lammers, so Wilkins’s ability to keep Moore off the offensive glass will be a big factor in this game. Anybody want to bet against Wilkins right now?

So Wake’s best lineup allows Virginia to matchup with their best lineup (arguably). Does Manning change it up and play his 4s (Thompson and backup Donovan Mitchell) more? It gives the Deacs a big advantage inside, but weakens their offense. (Thompson and Mitchell are combined 14/27 (52%) from 3 on the season, though neither are really outside threats.) This will be the chess match between the two coaches. Once again, my money is on Tony.

Wake Forest does two things well. One is shoot the basketball. They are 36th in the nation in 3-point percentage. The other is defend the paint. They are 51st in 2-point defense. That doesn’t seem like a great matchup against this Virginia team. The Hoos defend like hell on the perimeter (8th nationally in 3 point defense). And they don’t really have an inside scoring threat (just 109th in 2 point shooting).

The Deacs’ chances of pulling the upset are based on making enough contested 3s plus Moore dominating the offensive glass. That, and Virginia remaining cold from outside, where they hit just 3/13 against Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech, though, is a good defensive team. Wake is not.