Game Preview: Notre Dame at Wake Forest
Notre Dame (18-10 / 9-8) must-win scenario continues as it travels to Wake Forest (12-15 / 5-12) for its final road contest of the season.
The Irish beat the Deacons 90-80 at home back in late January. It was a game Notre Dame trailed at the half before a blistering second half allowed the Irish to cruise to victory.
Notre Dame has won six of their last seven matchups against the Deacons.
Start Time: 4:00 PM (Eastern)
TV: ACC Network Extra (Tom Werme, play-by-play; Mike Gminski (analyst)
Spread: Notre Dame -2.0
Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning was a brilliant player at Kansas, and he took Tulsa to the NCAA Tournament in his second season, which led to Wake Forest hiring him back in 2014. Manning has taken the Deacons to just one tournament appearance in his previous five seasons, and barring Wake Forest winning the ACC tournament that’s not going to change this season.
The Deacons have lost seven of their last 10 games, but the interesting part of that stretch is their victories were over Duke, Clemson and North Carolina. When Wake Forest last took the court, in fact, it beat the Blue Devils 113-101 in double overtime.
Wake Forest has been a decent offensive team at times, but it has struggled on defense for much of the season. The Deacons rank 14th in the ACC in points allowed (73.7), 13th in field goal defense (42.9%) and 10th in three-point field goal defense (32.5%).
Wake Forest has had similar issues all season that Notre Dame had during its rough patch, and that is an inability to finish opponents off.
Its losses include a 2-point overtime loss to Virginia, a 2-point loss at Syracuse, a 2-point loss at Charlotte, a 3-point loss at Clemson in which the Deacons led at the half, a 7-point loss to Arizona, a 7-point loss to Georgia Tech in which the Deacons were tied or down just one possession for much of the second half, and a 10-point loss at Louisville in which the Deacons held a 12-point halftime lead.
Against Duke, however, the Deacons were able to finish. Senior guard Brandon Childress knocked down a triple to cap off a 5-0 run to end regulation that sent the game into overtime. After an action packed first overtime session in which both teams scored 18 points, Wake Forest dominated Duke in the second overtime, outscoring the Blue Devils 16-4 for the upset win.
Wake Forest threw a different lineup at the Blue Devils, using a starting group it hadn’t put out all season. It paid off, as the Deacon offense was outstanding against the Blue Devils. Wake Forest made 51.5% of their shots against Duke, and they were aggressive attacking the rim, drawing 34 fouls and getting to the free throw line 50 times.
Childress - the son of Wake Forest legend and current assistant coach Randolph Childress - has been the Deacons best player all season. He leads the Deacons with a 15.1 points per game average to go with 4.5 assists per game. Childress struggled against Duke (6-20 from the floor), but he made clutch shots that led to the win.
7-footer Olivier Sarr is averaging 12.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He scored a career-high 25 points in the win over Duke before fouling out. Sarr has fouled out four times in the last six games, and it will be interesting to see how much Notre Dame goes after him early with drives to the lane and plays for big men John Mooney and Juwan Durham.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Notre Dame went 5-7 from Dec. 4 to Jan. 5, losing six of those games by five points or less. That stretch of poor play has put Notre Dame in a tough spot when it comes to earning an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.
While the odds are long, the Irish are still in the mix. They will need help, but that help won’t mean anything if the Irish don’t run the table. They certainly cannot afford a loss to Wake Forest, a team that will likely end the year with a losing record.
Notre Dame not only needs to beat Wake Forest, it needs to win convincingly if it is going to really make a statement. Wake Forest just beat Duke on its home court, so Notre Dame going in the next game and dominating would tell the committee that the Fighting Irish team you are seeing now - one that would be 8-2 in its last 10 games with a win over the Deacons - is not the one you saw in December and January.