As we near November that means one thing to most Wake Forest fans---basketball season is almost here! Despite the past few years of futility, failure, and unfortunate scenes on and off the basketball court, optimism is abound as Danny Manning heads into his second season at the helm.
Although excitement has been quelled slightly with the news of Codi Miler-McIntyre's foot injury, which could extend into the Maui Invitational, a combination of experience and young talent has the Deacs on the rise.
Ken Pomeroy's system agrees with that notion as well, with Wake Forest ranking 60th to enter the 2015-2016 season. That is the highest pre-season ranking since 2010, and what is now known as the Jeff Bzdelik [Name Redacted] Era.
Last year the Deacs finished at 124th with a 13-19 record (5-13 ACC, first round ACCT loss).
More importantly, the release of the rankings gives a good idea of: how the schedule breaks down, how the conference looks this year, and how the ACC compares on a national basis.
The good news is that the Deacs will be much better, the bad news is that it may not show up in wins this year as the schedule is one of the hardest Wake Forest has seen in a while.
KenPom projects the Deacs to go 14-14 (7-11 ACC), with two additional Maui games being omitted due to not knowing the opponent. That would logically produce a 15-15 record if Wake Forest splits the two games after the Indiana opener.
Wake Forest plays just one team worse than 300 in the rankings, and that is UMBC (332) in the first game of the season. From there they head to Bucknell (151), host Richmond in Winston-Salem (64), and then head to Hawai'i where they will play Indiana (13) on a neutral court.
Usually an injury in the early season won't hurt a team immensely, but the Deacs' hit the ground running, and the loss of Codi Miller-McIntyre for even a month will put pressure on freshman Bryant Crawford to produce from day one.
Aside from UMBC, the Deacs play Rutgers (223), who represents the only other team outside the top 200 we will see this season. UNC-G (178), Coastal Carolina (132), Virginia Tech (x2, 131), and Boston College (157) are outside the top 100. Every other team is inside the KenPom top 100. That is a hard schedule.
In fact, the Deacs play more top 30 KenPom teams (9), than they do outside the top 100 (8). For a team looking to make it to the postseason that poses a very difficult challenge.
If I had to look at the current college landscape and predict how many wins the Deacs would need to make the NIT, I would probably put that number at around 18-19. Usually it would take 20 wins or so, but in a loaded ACC, and with the schedule that Wake Forest plays, it is likely 18 with a couple of marquee wins would get the job done.
To make the NIT I would guess that Wake needs to win 16-17 in the regular season, and then get 1-2 in the ACC Tournament to get on the bubble. 20 wins would pretty much guarantee
There are a lot of variables at play, particularly how the 30 second shot clock will play a role for the Deacs (and everybody else), and also who the other two opponents are after Indiana in Maui.
From an efficiency standpoint Wake comes in at 49th offensively (106; or 1.06 points per possession adjusted), and 82nd defensively (96.5; allowing .965 points per possession adjusted). For reference, the Deacs finished at 127th last year offensively (1.04 PPP), and 137th defensively (1.01 PPP allowed).
Another thing that makes this season tricky is the fact that the ACC is the best conference in the NCAA this year, barely edging out the Big 12. There are three top ten teams (Duke, UVA, UNC), four more in the top 30 (Notre Dame, Miami, Louisville, Pittsburgh), and three more in the top 50 (Syracuse, FSU, N.C. State). That means there are likely 9-10 ACC teams that would get an NCAA bid come Selection Sunday., with Clemson and Wake on the periphery (56th, and 60th respectively).
All in all these rankings will become more accurate as the year goes on. He uses a set system to determine how much freshmen come into play, but as more data and statistics are added to the pot the predictions become better and more predictive to utilize.
To summarize, the Deacs should certainly be better than they have in years past, and the KenPom rankings agree with that idea. The problem is that it may not show in terms of wins on the basketball court. The ACC is loaded, our schedule is stacked, CMM is out for a month with a foot injury, and there are a few freshmen that will be asked to contribute from day one.
If Coach Manning can get this team to the NIT with 18-20 wins then I will be extremely impressed and look to the future with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm!