The Cleveland State Vikings-Wake Forest Demon Deacons game looks to be an offense versus defense matchup. Wake is an offensive juggernaut that thrives in fast-break situations, while CSU hangs its hat on defense, with tough man-to-man pressure that challenges every shot and does not allow easy baskets. Each team will try to force its style of play on the other. Below, I list the keys to the game in order of their importance.
Can Wake Run?
Wake, with its offensively talented roster, will look to play an up-tempo, up-and-down-the-court game. CSU, on the other hand, with its defensive-minded focus, will try to milk the clock and slow the game down to a crawl.
Wake ranked fifth in the NCAA in scoring, at 81.4 points per game, and 11th in field goal percentage, at 48.9.
Meanwhile, CSU was 11th in points allowed, at 58.9, and held opponents to a stingy field goal percentage of 40.6.
Something has to give here. Whichever team can control the pace of the game will be at a distinct advantage.
Stealing a Victory
Yes, Wake can put points on the board with the best of them, but are they a highly efficient offense? I say no. Owing to their up-tempo offense, Wake turns the ball over in bunches. For the season, Wake ranked 290th in turnovers, with a whopping 15.8 turnovers per game.
To put this number into perspective, only 40 NCAA Division I teams had a greater total and it's safe to say that none of them made the NCAA Tourney. The Deacons' assist to turnover ratio was only slightly better, ranking 250th, at 0.83, well under the 1.0 level that is typically deemed the low-level mark for an efficient offense.
This turnover weakness plays directly to CSU’s advantage, with the Vikes ranking 20th in the NCAA with 8.7 steals per game. Guard Cedric Jackson alone ranks third individually in that category with three steals per game.
Given CSU’s offensive handicap, some early-game steals that lead to easy transition buckets could have a tremendous impact on the game. Not only would it boost the players' offensive confidence, it would also trigger the crowd to start rooting for the underdog 13-seed, giving CSU the much needed “sixth man” help.
Wake boasts a starting 6'11'' center and two 6'9'' forwards, while CSU starts a 6'9'' center and 6'5'' and 6'1'' forwards. So, CSU better brush up on boxing out for rebounds.
To be fair, the Vikes do have first player off the bench George Tandy at 6'9'', who is capable of jumping with the best of them. But overall, the size advantage goes easily to the Deacons. Indeed, Wake ranked sixth in rebounding differential, at 6.0. Limiting second-chance opportunities will be crucial for the Vikes to remain competitive in this contest.
While I am not a big believer that experience matters much, it is a point that is being discussed in this contest. CSU has an experienced coach in Gary Waters who has been to the Big Dance before, whereas the Deacons are led by first-year coach Dino Gaudio.
In respect to the players, CSU is laden with four seniors who are the core of the team, including their two best—Bullock and Jackson. In contrast, Wake has no seniors on their roster, which is composed primarily of sophomores and freshmen.
The Bottom Line
This game will either be a blowout for Wake or a low-scoring squeaker that favors CSU.
My brain tells me that Wake is the better team and has too much talent for CSU to overcome. However, my heart tells me that the Vikings will scratch and claw and make this a game.
If the Vikings do not get off to a slow start like they are prone to do, and the crowd gets behind the Cinderella, I think we could be in for a major upset.
My heart predicts a Cleveland State win, 65-63.
Enjoy the game!