BTP: With Codi Miller-McIntyre back from injury, how much more dynamic does he make Wake Forest on offense?
GK: Danny Manning strives to play up tempo and in transition. Codi is the perfect guard to play at warp speed. He possesses great speed and doesn't slow down while dribbling the ball. Meanwhile, he is built like a brick wall and is adept and getting to the rim.
Until last Wednesday's game against Duke, he lacked confidence in his injured foot. He never looked in total control and felt comfortable reaching top speed. But that changed against the Blue Devils, where he put up 20 pts and 7 rebounds and did an admirable job guarding Grayson Allen. With a confident and healthy Miller-McIntyre, Wake has a dangerous and dynamic front line featuring him and Devin Thomas. If he continues to progress and round into shape, the ACC better beware.
BTP: Other than Devin Thomas, who's having an incredibly special season, who is a player that's made a big contribution to the Deacs this season?
GK: Freshman point guard Bryant Crawford has shown the playmaking ability, athleticism and poise rarely seen in a player in their first year. As you mentioned, without Miller-McIntyre for most of non-conference play, Crawford was forced to perform on Day 1. Averaging 12.9 pts and 4.8 asts, he utilizes his physical frame to get to the rim and possesses rare vision to find his teammates as a lead guard.
His fire and desire to take big shots separates him. He hit a game-winner against Indiana in Maui and nailed a deep 3 dagger versus LSU. With the game in reach at Louisville, he missed some open looks down-the-stretch, but I was most impressed that with Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas on the floor, the fearless freshman kept pulling the trigger. Going forward, the key will be getting Miller-McIntyre and Crawford, who both are ball-dominant guards, to coalesce together.
BTP: How will Coach Manning look to stop Cat Barber, who's having a phenomenal season so far?
GK: Cat Barber is speedy and slippery so expect Danny Manning to match up with his own physical and quick veteran point guard. While Codi has slowly been regaining his shooting and scoring touch, his defense has been nothing short of spectacular. Codi, giving up six inches, guarded Ben Simmons for most of the game and made him a non-factor as a scorer in the win in Baton Rouge.
Barber and Miller-McIntyre is the key matchup of the game. Both players are dynamic in transition and in the half-court and set the tempo for their teams. As Cat goes, the Wolfpack goes, so expect lots of help defense and traps to force Cat into mistakes. Danny Manning always coaches to make the opponents third options beat you. Wake will treat Barber like option 1A, 1B and 1C.
BTP: Who besides Cat on NC State do you feel gives the Deacs the most concern heading into the game?
GK: To be honest, I think Wake is putting all their efforts to contain Cat Barber. If he doesn't have a Cat-like game, the odds don't look good for the Wolfpack. One situation that haunts Wake is when Devin Thomas gets in foul trouble. He is our inside presence on the glass and guarding the rim. If he is on the bench, the Demon Deacons could have issues guard Abdul-Malik Abu. His size and niftiness could keep Wake's other big men off balance.
BTP: Alright, let's get a prediction. Who wins and why?
GK: The lack of depth on the NC State side will be a problem. The Demon Deacons will do whatever it takes to contain Cat Barber and throw a variety of looks at him. I do believe the game will be close in the first half but the up-and-down, physical style will wear down the Wolfpack in the second half. Expect a big day for Devin Thomas. Wake Forest 79- NC State 71.