The Wake Forest basketball team currently has a 7-2 record, but they are only ranked 96th in the country by Ken Pomeroy's metrics. Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know that myself and most of the other writers on this site are staunch believers in analytics. While I still am very pro-analytics, I truly do not care what they say about Wake Forest at this point in the season.
I don't always buy-in to Bill Parcells' famous line, "you are what your record says you are". I'm typically a very process-oriented person, and believe that over time good process will lead to good results. I fully admit that Wake Forest is somewhat "lucky" to be 7-2. Wake is 5-0 in games decided by 5 points or fewer, and historically teams go about .500 in close games. Still, there was nothing lucky about the difficult shots that Bryant Crawford and Cornelius Hudson made down the stretch of games against Indiana and Rutgers, respectively. There's nothing lucky about Wake making free throws and not turning the ball over.
Wake has dropped 36 spots (60 to 96) in Ken Pom since his preseason ratings came out. Our point differential isn't spectacular. In fact, Wake Forest has only scored only 3 more points than they've given up over the course of the season. Normally that would be cause for concern, but Wake's team is different. The Deacs were without Cornelius Hudson and Rondale Watson for the first five games of the season. Former Wake Forest coach Dave Odom said during Tuesday's broadcast that Cornelius Hudson was the most naturally talented player on the team. Wake was also without last year's leading-scorer Codi Miller-McIntyre for the first 8 games of the season. A walk-on was playing more than 20 minutes per game for most of the early part of the season. In fact, in their win over UCLA, Wake won the game without a point guard. Bryant Crawford had the flu before the game and could not go. Still, the Deacs beat a team on a neutral site who has since recorded impressive wins over Kentucky and Gonzaga.
Does Wake have a lot they need to improve on? Absolutely. I don't think anyone would argue that Tuesday's victory over UNC Greensboro was poetry in motion. Wake has a lot of work to do on the defensive end. But, Wake Forest is still 7-2. I was highly concerned when this season was about to start, and discovered that Codi would miss 4-6 weeks with a fractured foot. Then it was made even worse when the team announced that Cornelius Hudson and Rondale Watson would be suspended indefinitely (turned out to be 5 games). Despite all of that, Wake got phenomenal performances from Devin Thomas, and saw that Bryant Crawford and John Collins have very bright futures at Wake Forest.
After Friday's contest against Coastal Carolina, Wake should be 8-2. With that record, Wake can control their season. They will still have every opportunity to make a postseason tournament. Richmond is not an embarrassing loss, though Wake was favored, and Vanderbilt certainly is not an embarrassing loss.
Ken Pom is a very good predictive tool. However, Wake's numbers are not truly representative of the team's potential. They not only survived the early portion of the season, but they thrived. As important as process is, ultimately college basketball teams will be judged on record, quality wins, and strength of schedule. It's very much results and not process-driven.
Wake Forest then has a very difficult 4-game stretch upcoming. They have very difficult home games against Xavier and Duke, while they have difficult road games against a very talented (albeit underachieving) LSU team and Louisville. It's quite possible that Wake is sitting at 8-6 at that point. Maybe the narrative becomes different at that point. I just know I'm not going to count out Wake Forest of any game. They've shown resiliency, and now that they are at full strength, they will only develop more cohesiveness. I'm excited about the rest of the season, and think this team is very much in the thick of it for a postseason berth. They have had good results so far, and I believe they can continue that trend for the rest of the season now that the team is healthy.