Illinois at Wake Forest
8 pm
TV: ESPNU (a real channel!)

Wake Forest in 2016-17: 19-14, #11 seed NCAA Tournament, lost to Kansas State in the First Four.

Wake Forest in 2017-18: 2-4, losses to Georgia Southern, Liberty, Drake, and Houston.

What happened to the Demon Deacons seems to be they forgot how to play defense. They rank 230th in scoring defense, allowing 74.8 points per game; 206th in assist-to-turnover ratio, with 77 assists to 80 turnovers (0.96); 212th in field goal percentage allowed (.443); and 338th in three-point field goal defense (65/152; .428).

The advanced metrics paint a similarly bleak picture. Hoop-Math says Wake’s effective field goal percentage (which adjusts for the fact three pointers are worth 50% more than a two pointer) is .538 or 292nd in the NCAA (Illinois ranks 113). Likewise, KenPom (which is still using some stats from last year, mind you) says the Demon Deacons adjusted defense ranks 203rd in the nation (Illinois is 78).

As seen in Illinois’s struggle against North Carolina Central, even teams not highly regarded can be a challenge for this young, rebuilding Illini team. However, this weak Wake squad is a best-case scenario for Brad Underwood’s charges (like the Big Ten this year, discussed yesterday), offering a chance at a winnable game in the first road test of the year and in a Big Ten-ACC Challenge game.

The Illini come into the game listed as 3-point underdogs in Vegas, which is basically a pick-em. If they can exploit the Demon Deacons faults on defense, particularly on threes, and force turnovers, time to shine Te’Jon and Trent, I think they can pick up a meaningful win in North Carolina.

Photo by Mike Pauza