With Saturday’s win over Clemson in its back pocket, SU seems to control its own destiny a bit in terms of making it to the NCAA Tournament. However, many experts believe that Tuesday night’s first-round ACC Tournament matchup against Wake Forest is a virtual must-win if SU wants to keep those hopes alive and the Demon Deacons have proven themselves to be a worthy contender for the Orange this season, splitting the season series at one game apiece. With that worthiness comes a team stocked with solid role players that can make the difference. Nobody’s going to knock your socks off on this Wake team, but these three guys are the ones that could make the biggest impact on Tuesday.
Crawford is by far the most talented and dangerous player on the Wake Forest roster. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior leads the Deacs in both scoring (16.7 ppg) and assists (4.9 apg), meaning that when he’s on the floor and Wake is offense, he is likely going to factor into the scoring in one way or another. With that 6-foot-3 frame, he does a good job of getting to the basket and finishing through contact off the dribble, but he’s also a very skilled three-point shooter. Crawford shoots it at a 36% clip on the season and as his assist numbers indicate, he also does a great job of finding his teammates when they’re open on the perimeter. On top of all that offensive production, Crawford’s also the team’s best perimeter defender and averages nearly two steals per game on the season. It’s that ability to make a difference on both sides of the ball that makes Crawford dangerous and if he performs well on both ends, it could be the difference on Tuesday.
While Crawford is Wake’s best player game in and game out, Doral Moore is probably the guy that can hurt Syracuse the most matchup-wise on Tuesday. A hulking 7-foot-1, 280-pound junior, Moore is the definition of a matchup problem for SU. He is the kind of physically imposing and demanding big man that Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe (especially since he isn’t 100%) can’t deal with. He is going to bully the two of them into submission and will likely end up drawing a lot of fouls which will make Syracuse’s already-thin bench even thinner if it happens. He didn’t score especially well in Wake’s win over SU in Winston-Salem early in ACC play, but he showed he could more than get the job done on the offensive end in the loss in the Dome in February when he scored 16 points and grabbed an astonishing 16 rebounds. Moore is a double-double threat on any given night and the way SU has struggled with strong and physical big men over the last few weeks means Moore could be the difference maker in the first round.
Like many of his teammates, Wilbekin isn’t going to blow you away with his statistics and actually only scores the fifth most points on the team, but it’s the intangibles and leadership that make him an impact kind of player for the Demon Deacons. Wilbekin is a senior who has basketball coursing through his veins (his brother Scottie helped lead Florida to a Final Four appearance in 2014) and it shows on the court. He keeps the team in check and is a calming presence on the floor. But even though his numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet, make no mistake, Wilbekin can score when he needs to. He shoots nearly 45% from beyond the arc and has flashed that at times against the Orange in the last few seasons. Wilbekin is averaging just north of ten points per game against SU over the last two years. Again, his numbers won’t wow you, but the way he plays the game may lead Wilbekin to surprise some people on Tuesday.