Team A: Brought in 10 newcomers, two of them graduate transfers. Returned three scholarship players. One newcomer is ineligible. One freshman left before he could make a substantial impact. Played a nonconference schedule ranked the 319th-toughest of 353 Division I teams, per KenPom.
Team B: Brought in 10 newcomers, two of them graduate transfers. Returned three scholarship players who played last season. One newcomer is ineligible. One freshman left before he could make a substantial impact. Played a nonconference schedule ranked the 351st-toughest of 353 Division I teams, per KenPom.
Wake Forest fans have watched Team A all season and will see Team B at Joel Coliseum on Tuesday night.
Whereas Wake Forest has slogged through the first half of its season, sitting at 7-8 and having lost all three of its ACC games by double digits, N.C. State has thrived. The Wolfpack pounded inferior opponents in November and December, losing only in the ACC-Big Ten challenge at Wisconsin and beating then-No. 7 Auburn.
N.C. State handled business on the road at Miami, grinding out a come-from-behind win to open ACC play. The Wolfpack tripped itself up in a marquee matchup with North Carolina and rebounded with another grind-it-out win over Pittsburgh.
Wake Forest was handled by Georgia Tech to open ACC play, was never competitive in the second half in a marquee matchup with Duke and failed to rebound on the road at Miami, fading in the second half of an 11-point loss that wasn’t that close.
The Deacons are the second-youngest team in the ACC, with an average of 1.16 years of experience on its roster. Duke is the youngest, at .72, and will continue to hold that distinction as long as Mike Krzyzewski remains the top recruiter of one-and-done talent in the country.
But comparing Wake Forest’s youth to the team that came to Joel Coliseum last Tuesday night is futile. The Deacons had their best recruiting class in a decade — this Duke recruiting class might be the best ever, for any team in college basketball.
Stay away from that comparison, and instead look elsewhere.
You don’t have to look far.
There are two teams in the ACC that started the season with 10 new players on its roster. One of them, obviously, is Wake Forest. The rest of the season, per KenPom, looks like the Deacons will win one more game — mark your calendars for Jan. 26 against Boston College.
The other team with 10 newcomers is obviously N.C. State, which is 14-2, ranked 17th and is a 10-point favorite with an 81-percent chance to win at Wake Forest, according to KenPom. The Wolfpack is a young team that gelled quickly and now appears to be one of the top contenders to challenge the league’s triumvirate of Duke, Virginia and North Carolina, despite last week’s loss to the Tar Heels.
Coach Danny Manning — and really, all of the Deacons — pledged before the season that they’d be a versatile team and that their defense would have to improve, simply because it had to.
Yet, only one of Wake Forest’s 10 most-frequent lineups in the past five games has anybody other than Ikenna Smart and Olivier Sarr playing center, every single one of them has Brandon Childress playing point guard and all of them have Jaylen Hoard or Isaiah Mucius playing power forward.
The defensive marks for Wake Forest are well-documented, but they’re worth repeating: The Deacons are ranked No. 215 in defensive efficiency, which is (only) 90 spots from Manning’s best team at Wake Forest.
Coach Kevin Keatts, meanwhile, has 10 players available and deploys all 10 in most games. The Wolfpack is 12th in offensive efficiency, 71st in defensive efficiency, per KenPom. Junior Markell Johnson is one of the best point guards in the ACC. Torin Dorn has put in the time, as a redshirt senior who transferred from Charlotte, and is a Swiss-Army knife of a guard. C.J. Bryce followed Keatts from UNC Wilmington and fits in nicely, as do transfers Devon Daniels, Blake Harris and Wyatt Walker.
Keatts dropped this nugget on the ACC teleconference Monday: “The biggest thing about this team is our versatility.”
So Tuesday night will be a meeting of two teams similar in makeup and optics, and of two teams headed in vastly different directions.