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Examining Wake Forest's Close Games

We take a deeper look at what is happening in Wake Forest's close games this season.

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

Wake Forest lost another close game the other evening when they fell to Florida State, 82-76, in double-overtime, which dropped the Demon Deacons to a 9-12 record, including a 1-7 record in ACC play.  It prompted outcry and astonishment how Wake Forest could continue getting out to double-digit leads, before ultimately losing down the stretch. There are a variety of #HotSportsTakes and cliches out there. 'Does this team know how to win?' 'Are they mentally tough enough?' 'Are we clutch?' 'Can Danny Manning win tight games?'

Here's a stat for you - Wake Forest has the 329th "best" luck rating in the country. Luck is defined by basketball statistician Dean Oliver as the discrepancy between a team's actual winning percentage and what one would expect from its game-by-game efficiency. Essentially, a team involved in a lot of close games should not win (or lose) all of them. As Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey likes to say, "great teams don't win close games, they avoid them."

In Wake Forest's nine wins this season, they have an average margin of victory of 15.8 points. They have won only one game (Richmond) that was decided either by one possession or that ended in overtime. Conversely, Wake Forest's 12 losses have had an average margin of defeat of 10.5 points. Three of those losses have been by either three points or less or ended in overtime.

Richmond - Wake Wins 65-63

We certainly were fortunate to sneak away victorious in this one. With just under a minute remaining, Richmond had a 96% chance to win the game. As we all know, they didn't even make it to overtime. Wake was down 4 with 40 seconds remaining, but outscored Richmond 8-2 in the final 40 seconds to win on Devin Thomas' tip-in at the buzzer. Wake was "lucky" o win, but the biggest difference at the end of this one was that Wake made jump shots.

Syracuse - Wake Loses 86-83 in Overtime

Trevor Cooney hit a very difficult fadeaway three-pointer in the right hand corner with 3 minutes to go into the game to tie the game at 65. That changed Wake's win probability from about 68% to 35%. It was a very high leverage situation, Wake Forest played excellent defense, but Cooney hit an incredible shot. If that doesn't go in, it could be a completely different game. That wasn't poor scheme or coaching, that was just an outstanding individual play.

Clemson - Wake Loses 59-57

This one hurt more than the Syracuse game given Syracuse's talent level and how much we should have stayed in control in this one. A few minutes into the 2nd half Wake jumped out to a 40-28 lead and had an 84% win probability at that point. Even with a 56-51 lead with 4 minutes to go, the Deacs still had a 75% win probability. Over the final 4 minutes, Wake Forest missed one of two free throws, missed four field goal attempts, committed two turnovers and four fouls, and allowed six rebounds. If any of those things don't happen, then Wake Forest wins this game.

Florida State - Wake Loses 82-76 in Double-Overtime

This one was also quite painful. The KenPom win probability graph isn't out yet so I can't cite win probability %'s, but the Deacs were up 19-4 in the first half. That lead evaporated, and the Seminoles took a 46-43 lead with 13:44 to go in the second half. Wake was down 65-61 with 1:21 to go, but Codi Miller-McIntyre scored four points and the Deacs headed to overtime. If Wake "didn't know how to win," then wouldn't they have folded in the final 1:21? The same logic can be applied to the Syracuse game. In OT, the Deacs got a great look, but Mitchell Wilbekin just couldn't knock it down. Florida State defended the pick and roll well, Codi made a great dish, Mitch had a good stroke on it, but he just missed. Make or miss, that's the play Danny Manning called; a very good one by the way. He's not a better or worse coach as a result of that shot. He may be judged differently, but he shouldn't be.

I want to emphasize that these are not excuses for why the team is not finishing down the stretch. I'm not happy about the results, and no one who I know is. I want to win, every writer on this site wants to win, our fans want to win, and most importantly our coaching staff and players want to win. I'm not saying that moral victories are acceptable or desirable, but they are certainly more predictive than the blowout losses we had been experiencing that success is in the not too distant future. Expect a turnaround.

Please share your thoughts.