I was otherwise committed and was unable to watch the game on the Ocho. However, I spent the day on edge because I knew how important this game was for both teams.
I know that a 6-5 start to the season going into Wednesday night's non-conference finale means that every game is a "must-win" to most fans, but let's look at the potential implications that last Wednesday's clash had on the season:
A win would find Wake Forest in the midst of a three-game win streak by way of defeating a nationally relevant team on television (ESPN 3 is still technically television). Win streaks build confidence, which is paramount when you have (I'm going to say it again) a young team. A very young team. As it turned out, the Deacs closed the game out by maintaining poise and imposing their will to win ... the exact opposite of the Seton Hall debacle.
In other words, a win would show tangible progress for the first time in a long time. Read that again.
A loss, however, would have been devastating. Never mind the frustration and discontent within the confines of the locker room normally caused by losses, a loss to the struggling Muskies would stoke the blazing fire of that section of the fan base calling for massive change in the basketball offices. The narrative would continue: "Beat Radford, beat Furman, beat UNCG and lose to anyone relevant. And Nebraska." That narrative ticks off once-generous Deacon Club members and sure doesn't sell tickets.
I'm not saying that narrative isn't and wouldn't be well-deserved, either. What I'm saying is that the contrast in this case between a win and a loss is stark. The line between hope and disaster (perceived or real) is quite thin. Still think it wasn't a big game?
Here's a story for you:
Around 11 o'clock that night, a Tweet from Fayetteville Observer writer Stephen Schramm went viral:
Xavier, a team that has made three NCAA Tournaments and two Sweet Sixteens in three years, was having what us locals call a "Come to Jesus" in the bowels of Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Coming in to the game against Wake, three of their five losses were to the likes of Cincinnati, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Their other two losses were to Wofford and Pacific, who have KenPom ratings of over 150. Now the Muskies have six losses, four in a row.
Wake Forest has exactly one bad loss: Nebraska. Wake's other losses came to schools who have legitimate shots of winning their way into the top 64 (including Iona -- who knew?), and the Deacs have won three straight. In a nutshell, while the Deacs aren't anywhere near where Tie-Dye Nation wants them to be, they're nowhere close to the glum lot some perceive them as.
The Deacs go to Duke on Saturday. We know what is likely to happen. We knew it would happen before preseason practice started. Lots of teams are going to visit Durham this year and have the same thing happen. It's okay. Seriously. I'm telling you, the Duke game is nowhere near as important as what happened on Wednesday night.
One game doesn't make a season. One game doesn't mean, "We're Back!"
Far from it.
But one game, as it turns out, can give us a hint of something that has long been missing from Deacon Boulevard:
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