Wake Forest has been involved in some rough-and-tumble games already. Even with the bumps and bruises, the Demon Deacons seem comfortable knowing this is the way it will be. "I'm a little beat up, knocked around," senior guard Ishmael Smith said. "Any ACC game you know is tough."
While having to do it the hard way for much of the season so far, the Demon Deacons hope they've developed a collective toughness. "I wanted to put our stamp on our team being physical in the ACC," forward Al-Farouq Aminu said. Wake Forest had held five of its 10 opponents to less than 60 points. That's a sign that's particularly encouraging to coach Dino Gaudio, who knows his team a year ago sometimes become too preoccupied with issues on the offensive end.
A conference-opening 67-59 victory against North Carolina State was proof that defense might have to be a priority for Wake Forest. The good part for the Demon Deacons might be that they've instilled this mind-set into the way they do things in November and December. They're counting on that paying off when the league games come in rapid succession in January and February.
--G C.J. Harris landed the ACC's weekly top rookie honor after the Demon Deacons won a road game at UNC Wilmington and the ACC opener against visiting N.C. State. His steady play has been lauded throughout the first month of the season, though he turned some heads with a 3-point launch (that missed) early in the shot clock in the waning moments against N.C. State. That showed that there's plenty still to be learned.
--Wake Forest has won three consecutive ACC openers, something that the program hadn't accomplished since winning four in a row from 1994-97. The Demon Deacons go back to three nonleague games on the schedule before picking up a regular dose of the league portion of their schedule. "I'm happy," coach Dino Gaudio said after the victory against N.C. State. "We're 1-0, sitting on top of the ACC. ... We'll take that."
JANUARY AT A GLANCE
The Demon Deacons think they've become road-tested through the early portion of the season. Five of their first 11 games will be away from home, so they've developed an appetite for moving on without the comforts of the home court. Four of the team's seven games in January will come on the road. The four trips will send the Demon Deacons to Miami, Duke, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Wake Forest lost at each of those locales the last time it went to those places.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"Those are one of those (games) that you don't want to play but you have to." -- Freshman Ari Stewart, on a New Year's Eve game against a Richmond team that has shown upset tendencies. Wake Forest lost a home game to another visitor from the state of Virginia when William & Mary pulled an upset in November.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL SEASON RECAP
The Demon Deacons recovered from a two-game slide and had won four consecutive games through Christmas. They got off to a solid start in the ACC by defeating N.C. State in their conference opener. Seven of Wake Forest's first 11 games come against in-state opponents, with that stretch ending with a road game against UNC Greensboro.
Wake Forest 90, Elon 50
Wake Forest 80, UNC Wilmington 69
Wake Forest 67, N.C. State 59
at UNC Greensboro, Monday, Dec. 28
vs. Richmond, Thursday, Dec. 31
vs. Xavier, Sunday, Jan. 3
at Miami, Saturday, Jan. 9
vs. Maryland, Tuesday, Jan. 12
Wake Forest makes its second visit of the season to the Greensboro Coliseum, which will be the site of the ACC tournament. This time, the Demon Deacons take on the host team, UNC Greensboro, for their first game after the Christmas break. It's a game basically in Wake Forest's backyard, so it's barely constitutes a trip. But it gives the team a feel for the arena where conference teams will gather later this season, and it's also the fourth true road game of the month for Wake Forest. Coach Dino Gaudio is prone to point out that not many major-college teams are apt to participate in so many out-of-conference road games.
--F Al-Farouq Aminu nearly had a triple-double in the ACC opener against N.C. State, but it wasn't all good. His 18 points and 13 rebounds were accompanied by seven turnovers. "I'm playing too fast," Aminu said. "Over the (holiday) break, I'm going to work on slowing down."
--C David Weaver has been a relatively unexpected factor off the bench for the Demon Deacons. His concentration on defense provides the team an ingredient that sometimes wanes. His contributions can largely be considered bonuses because there was uncertainly in the offseason if he would stick with the team and use his final season of eligibility.
--G Ishmael Smith is normally known for his moves to the basket and his distributing the ball to teammates. But in the ACC opener against N.C. State, he showcased a couple of blocked shots that were instrumental for the Demon Deacons. In 48 previous ACC games in his career, he had a total of one blocked shot, so he started his senior season in conference play with another element emerging.