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NC State aims for sweep of Wake Forest as regular season comes to a close

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Now is not the time for State to go doing anything stupid.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

NC State and Wake Forest have met this season, though at this point it feels like it’s been a lot longer than four months ago. Plenty has changed since the Wolfpack won in Winston-Salem on Dec. 7—for one thing, the Deacs have gotten better.

Since Jan. 1, Wake Forest has played more like a top-75 team, according to Bart Torvik’s rating system, which is very similar to Ken Pomeroy’s. That’s not too shabby, though it does not appear it’ll be enough to salvage Danny Manning’s job for another year.

Center Olivier Sarr’s substantive improvement in his junior year has been a major story line for Wake this season. His workload is up dramatically, and so is his efficiency, which is typically what you see from a talent leveling up.

Over his first two seasons, Sarr accounted for about 14-15% of Wake’s shots while he was on the floor; this year, that number is over 22%. His two-point accuracy has held steady despite the increased role, and he’s become a foul-drawing machine. His free throw rate ranks 12th nationally, and in league play, nobody’s been better in this area. He’s shooting 76.3% at the stripe, too.

Sarr has also become an elite defensive rebounder while cutting way down on the turnovers that plagued him in the past.

He’s critical to Wake’s fortunes because the rest of the roster struggles to score effectively inside the arc, and this is a team that attempts a lot of twos in general. In league play, the Deacs rank 11th in three-point attempt rate, though that’s not for a lack of success outside—they are third in 3FG% at 36.0.

While they’ve been solid offensively, the defense remains a liability, as has been the case throughout Manning’s tenure. Wake ranks 13th in defensive efficiency in ACC games, and is the league’s least-disruptive unit in terms of blocked shots and turnovers forced.

NC State averaged 1.18 points per possession—its sixth-best effort of the year—in the first meeting. A repeat of State’s 12-22 shooting from three is unlikely, but there is plenty of room for success elsewhere against a team like Wake. That’s the beauty of going up against a crummy defense.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State to win by nine on senior night. Wake Forest hasn’t won a road game since the first week of January.