Games against back-to-back top 25 opponents will reach four straight for the Wake Forest men's basketball team.
The Demon Deacons lost three in a row to open their ACC schedule last week, all on the road, playing tight with both Virginia, now No. 18, and Duke, which is No. 19, before the home teams pulled away. Now, they get back-to-back home matchups against No. 16 Louisville and No. 20 Virginia Tech.
The week starts with the Cardinals, and here are three things to know about Wednesday night's game:
Converting 32 to 40
Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes finally has a string of useful game video to lean on. Having that showed up almost immediately last week, with the review of a lackluster outing against Georgia Tech becoming two quality showings against Virginia and Duke.
Now, Forbes said, it’s about sustaining the quick starts into a winning effort.
“I think we have to learn to play a game that’s 40 minutes, not 32,” Forbes said. “And credit to Virginia and Duke, they found a way to win the games in different ways. We played well for 32 minutes and didn’t finish.”
The potential for turnovers worried Forbes during the preseason, and it’s an issue with which the Deacons are coping. Wake Forest is last in the ACC in turnover percentage, losing the ball on 23.7 percent of possessions.
They’ll feel pressure from a stout Louisville defense, spearheaded by guards Carlik Jones and David Johnson, who make up one of the ACC's better two-way backcourts. Louisville holds opponents to 62.8 points per game, 31st-best among the 338 NCAA Division I teams playing this season.
“Georgia Tech, we didn’t play well and we fixed it,” Forbes said. “Now we’re going to play an elite defensive team in Louisville. Maybe the best defensive team we’ve played.”
No crowd helpful on the road?
After three straight ACC games on the road with limited or no crowd, does Forbes think a nearly empty venue is an advantage for a visiting team?
“I’m sure it is at Cameron, and even in Virginia,” Forbes said. “I’ve personally never played at those places with crowds, but just being in that place, just being in there with no fans, I could feel it.
“If that place (Cameron) was full, it’d definitely be a lot harder of a place to play. I don’t think anybody has a really true homecourt advantage this year, and that’s something that to me is really big in college basketball, is a homecourt advantage and winning your home games and holding court. But I think it’s harder to do, especially places that really draw well, and they don’t have that this year.”
Perception of the other side
Chris Mack, in his third season coaching at Louisville, is a former Wake Forest assistant, having coached under Skip Prosser in Winston-Salem and at Xavier.
“It’s really comforting,” Mack said on the ACC coaches teleconference. “It’s a very familiar place. It’s like going to visit your childhood home, so to speak.”
The teams played once last season, an 86-76 Cardinals victory on Feb. 5. He noted that Wake Forest is playing with a smaller lineup under Forbes than they did in the last year of Danny Manning’s tenure, a frontcourt thinned by the transfer of Olivier Sarr after last season and Tariq Ingraham being out for the year as he recovers for COVID-19.
“But there’s several different ways to skin a cat,” Mack said. “I think Coach Forbes’ teams, no matter where he’s been a coach, have always played extremely hard, competitive. You can see him on the sideline how much every possession matters to him, and his guys are getting it.
“And they’ve raced out in both games this past week. So I’ve got great respect for how hard his kids are playing.”