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Preview: What Virginia Basketball fans need to know about Wake Forest

Chris Graham
ryan dunn
Ryan Dunn. Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

Wake Forest has won nine of its last 10 after a 2-3 start, which you’d probably expect from a team with three transfers in the starting lineup – that there’d be a slow start, then improvement as the guys get comfortable with each other.

Coach Steve Forbes is good at this AAU ball style of coaching. OK, he hasn’t been to an NCAA Tournament at Wake yet, but he should have been when he won 25 games in 2022-2023, and he was on his way last year, before his team went 5-9 down the stretch to miss out on the postseason entirely.

It’s not been for lack of talent, and this year’s group has another big-numbers transfer point guard, Kevin Miller, who averaged 13.8 points and 4.7 assists per game in parts of two seasons at Central Michigan, and is the Deacs’ leading scorer in 2023-2024 (17.9 ppg, 4.1 assists/g, 49.0% FG, 38.8% 3FG).

Should be a fun matchup for Virginia point guard Reece Beekman (12.9 ppg, 6.0 assists/g, 48.1% FG, 27.5% 3FG), the 2023 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, who has been struggling a bit on the defensive end of late.

Per numbers from Synergy Sports, Beekman allowed 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the 76-54 loss at Notre Dame on Jan. 3, and 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting in the 76-60 loss at NC State on Jan. 10.

Small forward Hunter Sallis, one of two Gonzaga transfers in the starting lineup, has become a force. He averaged 4.5 points in 16.7 minutes per game with the ‘Zags a year ago, but the 6’5” small forward is putting up huge numbers at Wake (17.8 ppg, 47.4% FG, 35.7% 3FG).

I would expect UVA coach Tony Bennett to try to counter Sallis with 6’8” Ryan Dunn (10.1 ppg, 6.9 rebounds/g, 2.1 blocks/g, 2.0 steals/g, 55.7% FG, 21.7% 3FG), who is limiting opponents to 26.8 percent shooting this season, but like Beekman, was a little more vulnerable in Virginia’s last two road losses – allowing seven points on 2-of-4 shooting in the loss at Notre Dame, and nine points on 3-of-5 shooting in the loss at State.

My favorite player on this Wake team is 6’4” guard Cam Hildreth (16.9 ppg, 49.7% FG, 45.6% 3FG), who has improved his game by improving his perimeter shooting – from 27.6 percent as a freshman to 32.8 percent last season to this season’s mid-40s mark, on decent volume (3.8 attempts per game).

Where Hildreth can be a tough guy to guard is with his ability to back a defender down and score in the post, though he hasn’t been doing that as much this year (just seven post-ups this season; last season: 51).

The other double-digit scorer is 6’10” senior Andrew Carr (13.3 ppg, 7.5 rebounds/g, 52.7% FG, 35.1% 3FG), who teams up in the post with the other Gonzaga transfer, 7-footer Efton Reid (8.1 ppg, 9.3 rebounds/g, 41.1% FG).

Forbes uses one other big, 6’10” sophomore Zach Keller (2.6 ppg, 2.9 rebounds/g, 14.9 minutes/g) off the bench, and doesn’t go small (four guards and a big) all that often.

This might force Bennett’s hand toward going with 6’11” freshman Blake Buchanan (4.0 ppg, 3.4 rebounds/g, 15.9 minutes/g) in the starting lineup again, and I would expect him to go with Buchanan at the five and 6’9” grad transfer Jake Groves (7.5 ppg, 48.2% FG, 40.5% 3FG) at the four spot, moving Dunn back to the three.

If Bennett doesn’t start things out that way, this is where he’ll end up.

I’d also expect a few rotation minutes for 6’8” grad transfer Jordan Minor (2.0 ppg, 1.8 rebounds/g, 7.1 minutes/g), who has been getting slightly more run of late (nine minutes in the loss at Notre Dame, seven minutes in the loss at State).

This likely limits the minutes for struggling two-guard Andrew Rohde (5.8 ppg, 3.1 assists/g, 33.0% FG, 28.6% 3FG), which doesn’t give me any heartburn.

How this one plays out

uva isaac mckneely morgan state
Isaac McKneely. Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

Virginia (11-4, 2-2 ACC) has been god-awful on the road – 0-3 to date in true road games, all three losses by double-digits.

Wake (11-4, 3-1 ACC) is unbeaten at home this season, with wins over Florida (KenPom: 45) and Virginia Tech (KenPom: 57) included in that mix.

Slow starts were the issue in the 20+-point losses at Memphis (which got out to a 13-1 lead in the opening four minutes) and Notre Dame (which got out to a 13-0 lead in the opening four minutes).

Virginia led State 19-15 at the under-8 first-half timeout, before the Pack went bonkers for a nearly 20-minute stretch, connecting on 20 of 30 shots to build a 21-point lead ahead of garbage time.

So, avoiding a slow start, and then whatever it was that happened in Raleigh last weekend, would seem to be incumbent.

Issac McKneely (11.9 ppg, 43.4% FG, 49.4% 3FG) is important here. iMac needs to get going early to force Wake to stretch its D, to then open up driving lanes for Beekman to find guys on the perimeter and Dunn on slashes to the basket.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].