Scouting Report: Wake Forest

Vanderbilt played its most impressive game on Saturday afternoon, routing Georgia Tech in front of a raucous Memorial crowd. Shan Foster scored a game-high 17 points to lead four Commodores in double figures, including Alan Metcalfe, who scored a career-high 15.

 The ‘Dores shot 54.7 percent from the floor and connected on 10 three-pointers en route to a 92-79 victory that wasn't as close as the final score suggests. 

The win moved Vanderbilt to 7-0 and vaulted the Commodores into the top 25 for the first time this season.  Foster and company certainly looked like a top 25 team on Saturday, dominating the Yellow Jackets on both ends of the floor.  On Wednesday, the ‘Dores will try to keep the momentum going against another ACC team, the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. 

The Deacons (5-1) entered this season with a heavy heart.  This July, head coach Skip Prosser passed away after suffering a heart attack.  Prosser was one of basketball's most respected coaches; his death rocked the Wake Forest community and left a void in the basketball program that is still felt today.  Complicating matters were the graduation of star center Kyle Visser and the transfer of rotation players Anthony Gurley, Shamaine Dukes, and Kevin Swinton. 

Behind a new coach and a bevy of talented underclassmen, however, the Deacons have endured, jumping out to a 5-1 start against some relatively weak competition.  The lone loss came on the road at Charlotte, where Wake shot just 35.1 percent and committed 22 turnovers in its worst performance of the season.  The 25th-ranked Commodores will be the first big-time opponent for former Prosser assistant and current head coach Dino Gaudio. 

Seven Wake players average between 21.5 and 29.3 minutes per game, as the Deacons boast multiple quick, sweet-shooting guards and a pair of hyper-athletic forwards.  Leading the attack for the Deacons is 6-0 sophomore point guard Ishmael Smith.  As a freshman, Smith led the ACC in assists, averaging 6.0 per game.  He was brilliant in a 10-point home win over the Commodores last season, scoring a career-high 17 points and handing out nine assists.  Smith isn't a huge threat from the perimeter, but as Vanderbilt found out, he's deadly off the dribble.  The point guard got into the lane whenever he wanted, scoring on lay-ups or passing out to perimeter shooters.  Smith's scoring is down so far this year (6.3 ppg), and Jermaine Beal has been very effective in limiting point guard penetration.  Still, Wake's floor general has caused havoc against the ‘Dores before; Beal and Alex Gordon must contain the sophomore to keep the Deacons at bay. 

L.D. Williams is the second of three starting guards for Wake.  The 6-4, 210 pound sophomore is strong enough to get his own shots around the basket as well as make an impact on the glass.  Williams ranks second on the team in points (11.7 ppg) and rebounds (5.5 rpg), and he's shooting a solid 52.1 percent from the floor despite hitting only 2 of 11 three-pointers on the year.  Also the Deacons' best perimeter defender, he'll be a formidable match-up for Shan Foster. 

Joining Smith and Williams in the Deacon backcourt is 6-2 junior Harvey Hale.  At times, Hale (9.8 ppg) can be an explosive scorer – he made 5 of 6 threes on his way to 17 points in a season-opening win against Fairfield.  However, the junior has yet to find any kind of consistency in his two-plus years on campus, as he showed in an 0-for-5, two point outing at Iowa.  Hale's shooting percentages have suffered as a result of his streakiness; he's shooting just 34.6 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc.  The Commodore guards did a good job closing out on the Georgia Tech shooters, holding them to 26.7 percent on three-pointers.  If the ‘Dores continue to pressure the perimeter as they have, they can keep Hale from having a big impact. 

Freshman James Johnson has been a pleasant surprise for the Deacons to this point.  The 6-8 combo forward leads the team in points and rebounds, averaging 12.7 points and 8.5 boards a game.  He's scored in double figures in all but one game this year, and he's scored in a variety of ways.  A decent jumper forces defenders to play him relatively close on the perimeter, and his quickness and length allow him to beat his man to the basket.  Johnson is also active on the offensive glass, where he leads the team with 20 offensive rebounds on the season.  The freshman could be the toughest match-up for Vanderbilt.  Though Ross Neltner outweighs him by almost 40 pounds, Johnson's quickness may pose a problem for the Commodore power forward. 

Wake's fifth starter is 7-0 sophomore Chas McFarland.  After averaging just 5.4 minutes per game last season, McFarland is playing over 22 minutes per game this year and making the most of his opportunity.  His 9.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game are both good for fourth on the team.  More of a face-up post man than a traditional back-to-the-basket center, McFarland is not the most efficient scorer Wake has to offer.  Nonetheless, he, like Ogilvy, can knock down the 15-foot jumper and should be considered a scoring threat.  With 1.7 blocks per game, McFarland can also affect shots around the basket.  He'll be the first opponent that can match Ogilvy's size, but the skilled Aussie should have the decided edge in this match-up. 

Sophomore Jamie Skeen gives the Deacons a big, athletic presence off the bench.  At 6-8, the rugged forward proved to be a mismatch in the victory over Vanderbilt last season, scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds against the Commodores.  Like Johnson, Skeen is a bit of a tweener, a tall, athletic player with some perimeter skills; each could give the ‘Dores problems on Wednesday. 

A pair of freshman adds some backcourt depth for Wake.  Jeff Teague is a 6-2 combo guard who can score as well as distribute.  He's averaging 8.0 points and 2.5 assists in 21.5 minutes of play per game in his inaugural campaign.  Gary Clark, a 6-4 shooting guard, was also recruited by Vanderbilt.  Though he has struggled from three-point distance this season (23.1 percent), he has the ability to become one of the ACC's most feared long-range shooters before his career is done. 

With Visser out of the picture, Wake Forest is even more guard-oriented this year than they were last year.  McFarland gives them a decent post option, but they lack a traditional power player down low.  As a result, the Deacons try to force a quicker tempo at times, which has led to a lot of sloppy play thus far.  Despite having some talented distributors, the Deacons have committed 94 turnovers to just 72 assists, good for a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.  The Commodores, meanwhile, have posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of a respectable 1.2-to-1. 

With Shan Foster playing like an All-American and Jermaine Beal showing why he was rated a four-star point guard out of high school, the Commodores' guards have the edge over Ish Smith and the Deacons.  For the home team to build off this advantage and capture its eighth straight win, here are the keys to the game: 

  • Avoid Cheap Fouls:  The only way for Wake Forest to combat Vanderbilt's advantage in the paint is to draw early fouls on Ogilvy and Alan Metcalfe.  Ogilvy saw his share of foul trouble through the first few games, but despite picking up two fouls in the first minute of the South Alabama game, the freshman hasn't been limited by fouls in some time.  If he maintains that poise, he should be able to get what he wants down low.  With Metcalfe playing so well, however, the ‘Dores will have the inside advantage even with Ogilvy on the bench.

  • Speed It Up?:  The Commodores have shown an ability to play at different speeds, a luxury that comes with having an athletic big man like Ogilvy.  Against a guard-heavy team like Wake Forest, the ‘Dores might normally grind the tempo to a halt to establish their post presence and force Wake's guards into making outside shots in the half-court.  However, because Ogilvy and Metcalfe can get up and down the floor in transition, and because of the Deacons' turnover problems, the Commodores should be able to play at a faster pace and still handle the visitors.  In fact, as long as Beal and Gordon remain under control as they have been in the past few games, the ‘Dores have the shooters and the athletic centers to create an advantage in a faster paced game.
 Reserve Defenders:  Forwards James Johnson and Jamie Skeen have the athleticism to give Ross Neltner some trouble.  If they cause too much of a mismatch, the ‘Dores need Darshawn McClellan and Andre Walker, both of whom have shown the ability to defend athletic forwards, to step in and help out on Wake's athletes.  
 
Prediction:  Wake Forest is a team still in recovery from the devastating offseason loss of their coach, and they are still in the process of defining roles after losing four key players from last year's team.  Consequently, their schedule has been soft to this point.  They lost to a mediocre Charlotte squad, and Vanderbilt will prove to be a much tougher test.  If Ish Smith and Jamie Skeen can create the mismatches they did in last year's contest, this one could be closer than expected, but this year's Vanderbilt team is more athletic than the version that lost in Winston-Salem, so defending the Deacons shouldn't be as difficult this time around.  Final score: Vanderbilt 85, Wake Forest 72.

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