Preview: Duke (16-1) v. Wake (17-3)

After 16 wins against just a single defeat, the Blue Devils head into what promises to be their toughest stretch this season, beginning with Wake Forest in Winston Salem on Wednesday night. The Deacons, ranked near the top of the polls all season long, have been dominant at times and very good at others. Many consider a Duke victory unlikely, given the teams' match up on paper. <i>TDD</i> previews the match up.

Long considered the bottom tier of Tobacco Road, the Demon Deacons have assembled a roster designed to take the program to a promised land that NC State, North Carolina, and Duke have all experienced multiple times: A National Championship. With the Nation's top rated preseason player leading them, the Deacons have run out to a 17-3 overall record on the season, with a 5-2 conference mark.

After running over their first five opponents, the Deacons ran into an Illinois team that humiliated them by a 91-73 score, and it wasn't that close. Since then, the Deacons put together another impressive 10 game win streak that included wins over No. 12 Texas, No. 25 Virginia, and No. 4 North Carolina before being shocked in Tallahassee by Florida State. After the loss to the Seminoles, Wake gutted out a four point win at No. 18 Cincinnati before falling overtime to Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Now, coming off a win against Miami, the Deacons need to beat Duke in the worst way. Not only is it a game that will help define their legitimacy as an elite program in 2005, it's also a chance to catch the Devils, who hold a one game lead along with North Carolina in the ACC standings.

Clearly the Blue Devils are the underdog in this one, and a victory in Lawrence Joel Coliseum would be a big upset, but stranger things have happened on Tobacco Road.

Meet the Deacons

C- Eric Williams (6'9, 275lbs, JR) – Williams was at times a dominating force as a sophomore. Blessed with a big frame and soft hands, the Raleigh native managed to score just over 12 points per game last year. That total would have been high had he not developed a tendency to pick up cheap fouls throughout the course of the season, which limited his effectiveness on many a night.

This year he's controlled his foul problems in a big way, registering just four fouls once while having yet to foul out of a game. Without that hindrance, Williams has upped his minutes per game by nearly five, while upping his scoring average to 16.6 and his rebounding average to a respectable 6.8 per contest. While not a tremendously gifted shot blocker, he has improved there as well, averaging just over one rejection per contest.

Lately the junior has been red hot, averaging 26.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game over his last three contests while shooting a blistering 75 percent from the field (32-of-44).

Season Highs: 29 points (Cincinnati), 12 rebounds (Georgia Tech), 5 blocks (NC A&T)

PF- Jamal Levy (6'9, 180, SR) – Really came into his own as a junior, establishing himself as one of the conference's best rebounders and interior defenders. A long and wirery athlete, Levy's 180lbs frame can often be seen soaring over bulkier defenders for rebounds and second chance opportunities. He's also extremely quick and runs the floor well enough to beat most guards down the floor.

Offensively he's able to finish with either hand around the basket, but hasn't been as large a part of this year's offense as many expected. Still, he's able to score from 15 feet and in with relative consistency, and isn't afraid of contact. However, when he does draw contact and ventures to the free throw line, it's an unknown quantity as he's shooting just 50% from the charity stripe this season.

Season Highs: 15 points (Miami), 12 rebounds (twice), 3 blocks (3 times)

F- Vytas Danelius (6'9, 230lbs, SR) – Injured last year, Danelius didn't have a chance to continue the trend of hard nosed, blue collar European big men that ACC fans love to hate. Instead the Lithuanian born forward spent most of his time being largely ineffective while hoping to eventually break out of his struggles. It never happened. However, after an off season that was pain-free, the 6'9 senior has returned to the lineup to give the Deacons some help inside and the kind of blue collar brawler so common to Wake teams of the late 1990s.

A very controlled player offensively, Danelius has been able to tallying close to 20 minutes per night while contributing 6.9 points and nearly six boards per game. He's able to step out and knock down the perimeter jumper as well as being extremely gifted in the low post thanks to a plethora of post moves and ball fakes.

Season Highs: 17 points (G Washington), 10 rebounds (Maryland), 2 blocks (UNC)

G- Justin Gray (6'2, 188, JR) – One of the conference's best shooters, Gray has continued to prove himself as one of the better guards in the ACC, if not the country. Despite his sweet shooting touch from beyond the arc, Gray has proven the ability to get to the rim and is prone to attacking his defender off the dribble. Despite the personal offensive capabilities, he's also a great passer, which dates to his prep career as a point guard.

This year he's once again leading his team in scoring at nearly 17 points per game, but most of his offensive numbers are down with the emergence of teammate Chris Paul's individual offensive prowess. Still, Gray has adapted to his roles and is still overly capable of killing an opponent by himself, as Clemson found out when the junior torched the Tigers for 31 points earlier this season.

On the year he's hitting 42% of his long range jumpers, along with a 44% shooting clip from the field and 77% from the line. Over his last two games he's hit 9-of-20 from the perimeter while averaging 21.0 points per contest.

Season Highs: 31 points (Clemson), 5 rebounds (Maryland), 7 steals (George Washington)

G- Chris Paul (6'0, 170lbs, SO) – Everyone's All-American and the ACC's most hyped player in the preseason has lived up in a big way when Wake is winning, but has stuggled mightily in the Deacons' three losses. Still, the Preseason Player of the Year has managed to earn his spot on everyone's All American teams by posting 15.3 points, 6.8 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Paul's game starts with his quickness, which is among the best in the country – if not the best. Able to get from baseline to baseline in a flash, he's also got incredible floor vision and can deliver the ball accurately on the run with ease. What has improved this year is his perimeter shooting and scoring ability. This is a direct result of an off-season spent in the weight room, adding muscle and stamina.

In his last two contests, the sophomore has been cold from the field, hitting just 4-of-15 shots combined for 16 points. However, on the season he's scorching the nets from the perimeter at a 54% clip.

Season Highs: 29 points (FSU), 9 rebounds (FSU), 12 assists (Texas), 6 steals (Elon)

The Reserves:

Leading the charge off the bench is scoring point guard Taron Downey (6'2, 190, SR) who averages just over 8 points per game. Another guard who can play point, but is more comfortable in a combo role, Downey has thrived in his role as the Deacons' sixth man. Wing forward Trent Strickland (6'5, 215, JR) provides Prosser with an athletic slashing type, who can finish at the rim or settle for a midrange score. Post help is provided by Chris Ellis (6'9, 260, JR), a big body who is content to hang around the post and provide put backs. Also filling in is big sophomore center Kyle Visser (7'0, 250, SO), who continues to improve, but finds himself towards the end of the rotation.


Game Notes
courtesy of Duke Sports Information
Duke (16-1, 6-1 ACC), ranked fourth in the nation by the AP and sixth by ESPN/USA Today, faces No. 7 Wake Forest (17-3, 5-2) on Feb. 2 in Lawrence Joel Coliseum. Tip-off is set for 9:00 PM.

*- No. 4/6 Duke will face No. 7 Wake Forest in a matchup of top 10 opponents on Wednesday night in Winston-Salem. It will mark the ninth consecutive game between the two schools that both enter ranked in the top 25 (three of those nine games when both are top 10 foes)

*- Duke has not allowed an opponent to shoot better than .500 from the field this season. In 11 of 17 games, opponents have shot less than .400 from the floor against the Blue Devils' defense

*- With 334 made free throws in his career, Redick is now the NCAA's all-time leader in career free throw percentage (.937, 341-of-364)

*- In his last five games, Shelden Williams averaged 20.0 points, 12.4 rebounds and 3.6 blocked shots. He registered a career-high nine blocks vs. Virginia on Jan. 16 and a career-best 30 points at Miami on Jan. 19. He is shooting .649 from the field during those five games

Prediction:

Wake Forest – 84
Duke - 78


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