Thirteen games have been played, but none of them quite like this one. Tomorrow night Wake Forest will host the North Carolina Tar Heels for what promises to be a very exciting opening to the 2009 conference schedule. The 13-0 Demon Deacons are the fourth ranked team in the nation, while the 14-1 Tar Heels come in at number three. A win for the Deacs could easily launch them to the one or two spot on Monday. The game is set for an 8 p.m. tipoff and will be broadcast nationally by FSN as this week's Sunday Night Hoops game.
As is becoming custom, Wake Forest will look to Jeff Teague to lead the way. Teague is averaging nearly 20 points per game to lead the ACC, and is also second in the ACC in steals. Against the frontcourt of the Tar Heels, however, it will be Chas McFarland, James Johnson, and Al-Farouq Aminu who will be called on to get the job done.
Defense has been a key for Wake Forest so far this season, and will never be as important as it is Sunday night. Wake leads the ACC in field goal percentage against, and is in the top five in both blocked shots and steals. They will need to create and capitalize on as many turnovers as possible to slow down the Carolina attack.
The Demon Deacons have not played in a week, having come back from eight points down in the second half to defeat BYU 94-87 in Provo, UT, snapping BYU's 53-game home winning streak. It was a great chance for the Deacs to test themselves against a very good opponent in a hostile environment, and the experience is likely to pay off.
Currently standing at 13-0, Wake Forest looks for one more win which would tie the team for the second best start in school history. A 14-0 record was last accomplished in 1980-81. To get there, they will have to continue to excel on all areas of the floor. Not only has the defense been good, but Wake leads the ACC and is ranked second nationally in field goal percentage at 51.2 percent. Combined with their second in the ACC mark in rebounding and it is clear why Wake has performed so well to this point.
What to watch for:
The Deacs have maintained a size and depth advantage over nearly every opponent this season, but UNC poses a new challenge. Wake will have to rebound well, box out, and play good defense in the pain to stop the Tar Heels. Tyler Hansbrough is never easy to stop, but with as much depth as Wake has, they will look to share the load. Controlling the paint and slowing down Hansbrough is perhaps the biggest key to this game.
After a rough stretch in mid December when the Deacs had over 20 turnovers in back to back games, the team has emphasized holding on to the ball. In the three games since Wake has averaged only 10 turnovers. Keeping that number low is critical to Wake's success in the game.
A final key to this game will be Wake's ability to produce from the outside. Everyone knows the Deacs can slash and score, as well as post up, but outside shooting is often a question mark. It will not take much, but if someone can step up and hit a few big threes, UNC will not be able to sink inside much at all. It is a small thing, but it could make a big difference for Wake Forest.
North Carolina leads the all time series between the two teams by a very wide margin, 151-63, and has won the last four meetings. However, in 2005 the teams met at the Joel when ranked number 4 and number 3 as they are now and Wake won, 95-82. That time they were led by 26 points and 8 assists from Chris Paul.