Utah vs. Wake Forest Game Preview and Pick: Utes Control First Half

Aside from conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament, these next few weeks or so are some of the most exciting weeks of the college basketball season. With tip-off tournaments starting to get underway, college basketball fans are treated to some of the best non-conference matchups imaginable. One of the tournaments getting underway today is the Charleston Classic, and in the late-night matchup, the 2-0 Utah Utes will take on a 1-1 Wake Forest squad.

The Demon Deacons defense has gotten off to a horrid start this season, and with that, I’m expecting them to be down at halftime for the third time in three games.

Game Preview

Through their first two games of the season, the Utah Utes have made it abundantly clear they want to avoid a Jon Rothstein tweet about losing a buy game. The Utes are averaging 91.5 points per game while posting an effective field goal percentage of 58.9%, which is ranked 25th in the country. Utah’s average score margin through two games is an impressive 32 points, so not only have they found success offensively, but they’ve been dominant defensively.

Opponents have averaged just 59.5 points per game, as the Utes have held their first two mid-major opponents to a 34.4% shooting percentage. With their performance early on this season, the Utes are currently ranked 35th on KenPom in adjusted defensive efficiency rating.

The length the Utes possess throughout their lineup has helped them on both ends of the floor. Six rotation players on Utah are averaging at least five rebounds and ten points per game. With their matchup tonight, the Utes look to be in an excellent spot to continue their high level of scoring since they’ll take on a Wake Forest team that is allowing an average of 79 points per game.

Wake Forest has multiple guys on their roster that can flat-out score, but that won’t matter much if their defense doesn’t improve. The Demon Deacons rank 125th in adjusted defensive rating on KenPom, and opponents have averaged an effective field goal percentage of 53.6% against them.

Offensively, the Demon Deacons rank 39th in adjusted efficiency rating, as they have averaged 89 points per game. Steve Forbes’ team features two returners who seem poised for a breakout season in Cameron Hildreth and Andrew Carr, along with two transfers in Hunter Sallis and Kevin Miller, all of which are averaging 16 or more points per game.

Pick for the Game

The Utes are currently favored by (-3) for the first half of this Charleston Classic matchup, and I’ll be backing them for my play. While their first two opponents were mid-majors, they were not bottom-of-the-barrel mid-major programs, and the Utes held them to an average of 16.5 points in the first half, which is the best average in the country.

Utah is also averaging 46 first-half points per game, and now they get a Wake Forest team that has been down at halftime in both of their games. In their first game of the season, the Demon Deacons fell behind 55-43 to an Elon team that is 330th in efficiency margin on KenPom. Not only do the Demon Deacons rank 341st in first-half points per game, but opponents are shooting 36.4% from three against them.

While the Demon Deacons will improve over time as the roster starts to play together more, for the time being, the Utes are for more well-rounded. According to Shot Quality, the Utes are 22nd in adjusted overall shot quality, while the Demon Deacons are 174th. At the rate Utah is scoring, I don’t think Wake Forest can keep pace with them out of the gate.


  • Utah Utes 1H (-3)(-110) on DraftKings

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