Wake Forest’s next victory could further cement the Demon Deacons’ status as one of the country’s elite teams. Clemson’s next win could show the Tigers are able to sustain early season success against a top-notch opponent.
In arguably the most anticipated of the 148 meetings between the ACC schools, second-ranked Wake Forest (15-0, 2-0) travels Saturday to No. 10 Clemson (16-0, 2-0).
A few months ago, it was hardly expected that this matchup would evolve into a clash of Top 10 teams. The Demon Deacons were ranked No. 21 in the opening AP poll, and the Tigers received just 11 votes to finish well outside of it. But in the past two weeks, Wake has ended BYU’s national-record home win streak, knocked off third-ranked North Carolina and tied their best start in school history.
With an 83-63 blowout Wednesday at Boston College - the school that gave the Tar Heels their only other loss this season - this year’s Demon Deacons matched the 1926-27 squad as the only teams to begin 15-0.
Clemson is 16-0 for the second time in three seasons and a win away from tying its best-ever start set in 2006-07.
“We’re just playing ball. We’re just playing like we’re having fun,” said senior K.C. Rivers. “We’re enjoying what we do like before we were ranked, so we’re going to continue to do that.”
That 2006-07 team fell apart after starting 17-0, going 8-11 to finish the season. The Tigers also began 12-1 last season and were 12-9 after that, but qualified for their first NCAA tournament berth in 10 years.
One reason for Clemson’s bevy of late-season struggles is a 2-12 mark in its last 14 games against Top 25 opponents. The Tigers are also 1-34 against Top 5 foes over the last 12 seasons, including 17 straight losses. While they have been impressive in winning the early non-league games they should win, the talented ACC brings with it a grinding conference season chock full of ranked teams.
True to form, Clemson hasn’t played a ranked opponent yet, and the Demons Deacons’ 92-89 victory Sunday over North Carolina was their only win over a ranked team. It was also their second victory in the past three meetings with a Top 10 opponent.
Leading scorer Jeff Teague has averaged 31.0 points and shot 58.7 percent over the past three games, and sits second in the ACC at 21.2 points per game behind the Tar Heels’ Tyler Hansbrough (22.8).
Both teams enter Saturday’s game among the nation’s top scoring and shooting teams, with Wake averaging 85.5 points and 51.2 percent shooting and Clemson 80.4 points and 48.9 percent.
But the Demon Deacons are the toughest ACC team to shoot against, limiting opponents to 36.3 percent, and it’s that excellence on both ends of the floor which makes them so dangerous.
“That’s really why we are where we are,” coach Dino Gaudio said. “We’ve come a long way. We have a long way yet to go.”
Not to be outdone, the Tigers’ defense has allowed opponents to shoot 39.7 percent and average 62.4 points, even lower than Wake’s 65.7.
That defense was on display in the last two wins - 66-59 over Alabama on Jan. 6 and 63-51 over North Carolina State on Jan. 10 - with Clemson holding those teams to a combined 34.5 percent shooting.
While the Demon Deacons have won 14 of the past 17 meetings, the Tigers have taken the last two at home with both wins coming in overtime. Three of the last four meetings overall have required an extra session, and the other was decided by two points.
In last season’s 80-75 victory, Rivers had a team-leading 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Terrence Ogelsby hit two pivotal 3-pointers in overtime on his way to 13 points off the bench.
While Rivers and Ogelsby have averaged in double figures this season, Trevor Booker has proved a force in leading the Tigers in scoring (15.4 ppg), rebounding (9.1 rpg), blocked shots (44) and field goal percentage (57.2).
Booker needs five points to become the 33rd Clemson player to reach 1,000 for his career.