There are three, three-win teams in the ACC ...
Wake Forest is one of them and plays the other two this week.
The Deacons play host to North Carolina on Tuesday night, and then travel to Miami on Saturday. With seven games left in the regular season, if there remains a time for Wake Forest to move out of the ACC’s basement, it seems that would be this week.
“The most important game is the next game, we’ve just gotta — we can’t keep looking ahead, we’ve gotta look at the next game we have and not worry about our record, but just focus on that game and trying to win that game,” junior guard Chaundee Brown said.
Five things to watch in the game against Carolina:
1. Who recovers better?
Wake Forest and Carolina have identical overall records and both lost in excruciating fashion Saturday night — the Deacons on a put-back with 1.7 seconds left in regulation at Syracuse, the Tar Heels on a put-back as time expired in overtime against Duke.
The bounce-back factor will be interesting to watch for both teams.
“We’ve had those talks before, just in terms of where we’re at, what we need to continue to do and we’re taking those steps, we’ve just gotta be able to close it out,” Coach Danny Manning said. “… We’re putting ourselves in situations, for the most part, we’ve just gotta close out better.”
2. Looking for 40 minutes
The Deacons feel that they had two good halves during last week’s two-game road trip — the obvious problem in that is the accompanying two halves.
Wake Forest jumped up 46-34 at halftime at No. 5 Louisville, and then was outscored 52-30 in the second half. The good half in the Deacons’ game at Syracuse was the second half — after falling behind 38-30 in the first half, Wake Forest clawed back and led by four with less than four minutes left before faltering late.
“We just have to put 40 minutes together, that’s been our main problem, really,” Brown said. “I know the veterans know, Brandon (Childress), myself, Olivier (Sarr), Andrien (White), but it’s just … trying to get the freshmen to understand that every play counts and like, that Duke and UNC game shows it, every play, every possession counts.”
3. Confident freshman
Speaking of Wake Forest’s freshmen, forward Ismael Massoud was trusted again — and connected again — on a high-pressure shot, this time hitting a game-tying 3-pointer with 21 seconds left. Massoud also drained a game-tying 3-pointer in a November loss at Charlotte.
“Ish is a very confident young man in his shot, and that’s his calling card right now. He certainly hit a big shot for us and he’ll always have confidence in his shot,” Manning said.
“He’s gotta continue to evolve and grow.
“He’s taken some steps. He is rebounding the ball better, but you know, across the board, there are things that we need to do better as a team and he’s in that category, too.”
4. Tar Heels’ break
Before this season, the lowest national rank for average possession length for North Carolina was 25th — when the Tar Heels’ average possession was 15.4 seconds (per KenPom).
That was the 2016-17 season, in which North Carolina won the national championship.
North Carolina is abnormally slower this season, and a national championship — let alone, an NCAA tournament berth — are unrealistic.
The Tar Heels’ average possession this season is 16.6 seconds, which is 72nd in the country. Coach Roy Williams has implored freshman point guard Cole Anthony to push the tempo in the three games — all losses — since he returned from injury.
“I’ve been trying all year to get them playing faster,” Williams said. “… Our pace was better against Duke than against anybody else.”
5. Garrison Brooks’ availability
Brooks suffered an eye injury late in Saturday night’s loss to Duke, and Williams said Brooks didn’t practice Sunday and was unsure of his status for Monday’s practice when he spoke on the ACC teleconference.
The junior forward’s status will be worth monitoring before the game. He has averaged 17.2 points in the last 14 games.