Monday, February 18, 2008

More work ahead for Deacons

For the moment, anyway, Wake Forest can think realistically about making the NCAA tournament.

The notion was a long shot before the Deacons’ impressive 86-73 victory against second-ranked Duke Sunday night, but their performance – built on their speed – against the Blue Devils threw Wake Forest into the discussion.

The Deacons are 16-8 overall and 6-5 in the ACC, but now comes the tough part – building on what they did against Duke.

The Deacons have a week off to enjoy the win, but they play at North Carolina next Sunday then host Maryland. From there, the Deacons have dangerous road games at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before closing the regular season at home against N.C. State.

They need to win at least two of those games, maybe three to stay in the NCAA conversation.

Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t just being nice when talked about how good the Deacons were Sunday night. They were that good against Duke.

For some reason, freshman forward James Johnson has been largely overlooked this season, but he’s a terrific talent whose biggest fault has been a tendency to "float in and out a little bit" his coach, Dino Gaudio, said. He has a big man’s body – 6-8, 235 pounds – but he can play on the perimeter.

Freshman guard Jeff Teague was fearless against Duke and coupled with point guard Ish Smith, the Deacons have a backcourt capable of breaking down opposing defenses with their penetration.

The Blue Devils wound up with all five starters fouling out, which curtailed their comeback. Krzyzewski brushed off the foul problems, saying his team has handled foul trouble in other games but didn’t do it against Wake Forest.

It was the kind of game Krzyzewski will use to his advantage as the Blue Devils head down the regular-season stretch.

"We’ve won and been fortunate," Krzyzewski said. "We have to play like we haven’t done anything and tonight we played like we had already done something. That’s part of learning. We have some young guys who haven’t been champions before and they’re trying to learn how to be that."

-- Ron Green Jr.