Demon Deacons establish Detroit ceiling
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Instead of picking apart North Carolina and looking at what's wrong with the Tar Heels after a 0-2 ACC start, the better question might be: What's right with Wake Forest?
The answer is plenty.
Wake Forest is here to stay this season, as an ACC title contender, a possible No. 1 seed and a team that can get to Detroit.
And sophomore guard Jeff Teague is a legit candidate to be ACC Player of the Year and a first team All-American.
No hesitation in any of these statements, regardless of what happens later this week at Boston College (ESPN Full Court, Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET) and at Clemson (ABC, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.).
The proof has been building for weeks, not just Sunday night in Wake's 92-89 victory, in front of what is arguably one of the best atmospheres in college basketball when the Deacs' tye-dyed student section is amped up like it was on this night.
Wake Forest (14-0), one of three undefeated teams remaining with Pitt and fellow ACC rival Clemson, began to make its case in Anaheim, Calif., to start the season, beating a solid UTEP team and then taking out Big 12 contender Baylor. The turning point, though, came when Wake went to BYU. Down eight in the second half in front of 23,000 passionate Cougars fans at the Marriott Center, the Demon Deacons stormed back behind Teague's 30 points and snapped BYU's 53-game home-court winning streak.
That was last weekend.
Eight days later, Teague was special again, scoring 34 points. He got his shots when he wanted, drove to the lane, got fouled (hitting 13-of-15 from the line) and played nearly every minute (39). Meanwhile, North Carolina's Ty Lawson had four turnovers, just nine points, and missed all four 3s he attempted while committing three fouls. Teague committed one.
North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough deserves every bit of praise he has received. But so far, in two ACC games, Hansbrough is a combined 9-of-27 from the field and hasn't been able to take over a game.
This was a huge win for our program since everybody was talking about how good Carolina is. This was great for everybody to see how good we are.” -- Wake Forest's Chas McFarland
Teague did, at least in Wake's first game in ACC play.
Let the campaign begin to consider Teague in the conversation for ACC and All-America first team.
"Why can't it be Jeff Teague?" Wake Forest senior guard Harvey Hale said. "Jeff still hasn't gotten the notoriety. Everybody talks about [Syracuse's] Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson [at the point]. [Teague is] probably the best guard in the ACC. You can't stop him. He's an unbelievable player."
The slight is real among the Deacons.
"It's all about politics," said fellow sophomore forward James Johnson. "He's the player of the year. He's a great player. He gives our team tremendous confidence."
Lawson said Teague is so crafty with the ball that it's tough to defend him. He can get under screens, and knock down the jumpers to get his team going.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he told Teague after the game, "'That was about as good a performance as I've seen in a long time against a team that I've coached.' I thought he was sensational."
"He's a great guard," North Carolina junior guard Wayne Ellington said. "He penetrates and finishes. [Wake Forest] will be right up there. They're a great basketball team. I'm not saying anything bad about them at all."
That's because it's not just Teague. Johnson is a load to deal with, too. He fouled out but still had his moments with a 3-pointer and two blocks. Junior center Chas McFarland won't let highly touted Wake freshman big man Tony Woods come near his starting spot. McFarland held his own in the paint, scrapping for 20 points and nine boards.
"This was a huge win for our program since everybody was talking about how good Carolina is," McFarland said. "This was great for everybody to see how good we are."
The Deacons knew how good they could be at BYU. Every player and coach says that was the game that proved they are a squad to be reckoned with this season.
Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio, who was justifiably praised by Williams for keeping the program afloat under tragic circumstances following the sudden death of former coach Skip Prosser in July 2007, said the maturity of the Deacons showed in Provo.
"You could see it in their body language when we got down eight, you could see how their heads were up, how they were clapping for each other to get a stop," Gaudio said.
But fame would be fleeting for a team like Wake if it were to lay an egg at BC on Wednesday or get blown out at Clemson on Saturday. While that might not diminish the Deacons' ACC title chances or opportunity to be a top seed, it would be a sign that they aren't as perfect as their record.
Last season, Wake beat Duke at home and then lost four in a row -- and five of six to end the season -- and didn't play beyond the ACC tournament.
Gaudio told his players to enjoy the win over Carolina, but then immediately turned to his assistant to ask for the BC stats. The Deacons have never beaten the Eagles, posting an 0-7 record that Gaudio has memorized.
"To me, the BC game is a lot bigger than this game," Johnson said. "We've never beaten them, and they always tough people out. They beat North Carolina. If we go up to Boston and beat them, then that will be a bigger win than this one."
Well, what it will do is make this win matter even more.
Wake Forest is here to stay, with a ceiling that can reach Detroit. Right, Chas?
"There's no doubt in my mind we can," McFarland said.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.