Game 25: Wake Forest (14-9, 5-6) @ Notre Dame (17-7, 6-5)
-- Date: Feb. 7, 2017
-- Place: Purcell Pavilion; Notre Dame, Ind.
-- Time: 7:00 pm ET
-- TV: ESPNews
-- Nickname: Demon Deacons
-- Conference: ACC
-- Head coach: Danny Manning (38-47 in 3rd year at Wake Forest)
-- Location: Winston-Salem, N.C.
-- 2015-16 record: (11-20, 14th in ACC)
-- 2016 Postseason: None
-- Point spread: Notre Dame by 7
WAKE FOREST PREVIEW
A dangerous Wake Forest team – coached by former great Danny Manning – arrives at Purcell Pavilion Tuesday night, clinging to the hope of landing an NCAA tournament bid in the ultra-deep, ultra-competitive ACC.
Wake Forest has matched its conference high for victories in a season (five) under Manning with seven to play. The Demon Deacons were 7-29 in Manning’s first two years.
Notre Dame has won its last three against the Demon Deacons -- by 13 at home two years ago, and by 13 at home and 11 at Wake Forest last year. But much of that success was tied to since-graduated Zach Auguste.
Auguste scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a late-January victory at Purcell Pavilion, and then added another 18 points and 12 rebounds in Winston-Salem a month later.
Wake Forest has won four of its last six with losses at Syracuse by five and at home against Duke by two sandwiched between a pair of two-game winning streaks.
Last week, the Demon Deacons claimed five- and 12-point victories over Boston College on the road and Georgia Tech at home.
This is a much-improved Wake Forest team than the one that lost four of its first five ACC games. Sparking the revival is 6-foot-10, 235-pound sophomore John Collins, who is averaging 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
Collins has been on fire, scoring at least 20 points in each of the last six games with double-doubles coming against Syracuse, Boston College and Georgia Tech.
“Collins inside has made himself a heckuva NBA prospect,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey. “He’s hard to deal with. But then you’ve got shooting on the perimeter. They’ve got guys with shot-making ability. They can really score the ball.”
Wake Forest boasts five three-point shooting threats, led by 6-foot-3 sophomore Keyshawn Woods (12.6 ppg., 4.3 rpg., 3.7 apg.), who has converted 45.3 percent of his attempts (34-of-75).
Austin Arians, a 6-foot-6 senior, and Mitchell Wilbekin, a 6-foot-2 junior, each have made 39 three-pointers with both converting at a 40 percent clip.
Bryant Crawford, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, is second on the team in scoring (14.9) while leading the team in assist (5.9).
Even 6-foot-10, 255-pound junior Konstantinos Mitoglou has nailed 23 three-pointers while averaging 9.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 85.3 percent from the line.
Wake Forest is shooting well from three-point range (38.5 percent) and the free-throw line (77.4 percent) while boasting a 370-to-285 assist-to-turnover ratio.
In its two losses last year against the Irish, Wake Forest converted just 8-of-36 three-pointers.
THE FIGHT AFTER FOUR
Notre Dame hasn’t won a basketball game since a struggling Syracuse squad limped out of Purcell Pavilion on Jan. 21 – 17 days ago – following an 84-66 Irish thumping.
Since then, Notre Dame has lost four times – by 17 (Virginia) and 10 (Duke) at home, and by two (Georgia Tech) and seven (North Carolina) on the road. The Orange, meanwhile, are 4-0 since the loss at Notre Dame with wins over Wake Forest, Florida State, N.C. State and Virginia.
A victory over the Demon Deacons would taste like the nectar of the gods.
“I’ve always told our guys, especially this year, your memory has to be short,” Brey said. “We have a chance to get back on the horse against a very good Wake Forest team.”
Brey, the ultimate confidence-giver, is not one to bang on his team in publicly. He insists his team continues to show resilience and has not lost its will to win.
“I love our group. I love our fight. I love our toughness,” Brey said. “There’s a great toughness about them, and at the end of the day, that will be the thing that gets us over the hump.
“I think we’ll get rewarded for it. We’ve just got to hang on and understand the league that we’re in.”
Brey will continue to mix and match size with a smaller group, the latter of which gave the Irish a chance at North Carolina down the stretch.
“We were really efficient with our smaller group,” Brey said. “We got beat up on the boards, but that’s the best rebounding team in the country, and we still had a shot.
“We’re going to absorb some put-backs when we play small. But when we’ve downshifted, that has been our most efficient offensive group.”
When Notre Dame finished second in the Big East with a 14-4 conference mark back in 2010-11, an incredible 11 teams from the league made the NCAA tournament.
There’s been plenty of talk this year of at least 10 ACC teams landing a spot in the NCAA tournament. Heading into tonight’s action, there are 11 teams with a record of 5-6 or better.
“I think this one’s tougher,” said Brey when asked to compare scenarios with the Big East six years ago.
“Pittsburgh…I can’t believe they’re 1-9. They’re a helluva basketball team. They went in and beat Maryland -- which could win the Big Ten championship -- on the road by (14).
“(The ACC) is deep and good all the way to the bottom. There were some teams (at the bottom of the Big East) the year we got 11 bids that got thumped a bunch. This one all the way through is really hard, really difficult.”
As demoralizing as four straight losses and five of the last six have been, Brey remains upbeat, due largely to the knowledge that the ACC schedule is land-mine filled.
“We’re in a tough stretch,” Brey said. “But to have six league wins right now, I’m not complaining. If we can scratch out some more, we can get in this NCAA tournament. I think we’re getting 10 bids.”
POINTS IN THE PAINT
• Despite struggling from the free-throw line in its first four ACC losses, Notre Dame continues to lead the nation in percentage at 80.7, followed by Valparaiso (80.1) and Villanova (80.0). Tonight’s opponent, Wake Forest, ranks 11th nationally at 77.4 percent.
• In 11 conference games, Matt Farrell has converted 29-of-58 three-point attempts following his 4-of-8 performance against North Carolina. Farrell has converted at least 40 percent of his three-point shots in eight of those 11 games.
• V.J. Beachem has scored at least 20 points in four of his last fives games. He tallied 30 in a home victory over Syracuse, 23 at Georgia Tech, and 20 against both Duke and North Carolina. The outlier was a three-point, 1-of-10 shooting game against Virginia in between the Syracuse and Georgia Tech games.
• Steve Vasturia has scored just 21 points and missed 12 of his last 13 three-point attempts spanning the last three games.
Prister/O’Malley Prediction: Notre Dame 84, Wake Forest 75