On Thursday I wrote a piece on why I didn't care that the Wake Forest basketball team was currently ranked 96th by Ken Pomeroy's rankings. To be honest, I probably didn't articulate my point as well as I should have. I'm not as concerned that Wake Forest is currently ranked 96th, but if that ranking remains the same, then there will be reason for concern.
I hope that I didn't start a "war on math." Again, I'm very pro-analytics and Ken Pom is an exceptional site. Tempo-free statistics are a much better way of analyzing the game. Had Wake Forest been fully healthy/not suspended for the first nine games of the season, then I'd absolutely be concerned with Wake's ranking of 96. However, I believe now that Wake is at full strength they will move up the rankings.
Consistently winning a vast majority of close games is not sustainable. In that sense, Wake Forest is "lucky" to be 5-0 in games decided by 5 points or fewer. While I don't necessarily believe that Wake has some special team composition that allows them to win close games, I do think a legitimate argument can be made that they could have avoided more of them at full health. As Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey says, "Good teams don't win close games, they avoid them." The good news for Wake is that they're essentially taking Trent Van Horn's minutes, a below replacement level player, and replacing them with an all-ACC caliber player in Codi Miller-McIntyre.
What does Wake Forest have to do to get better and improve their ranking? The most obvious answer is that Wake has to get better at forcing turnovers. Only one of Manning's four teams has been above average at forcing turnovers, as he's more about disciplined defense, but Wake is currently bottom 10 in the country in turnover percentage defense. I'm hopeful that having Codi can help us with, and Rondale Watson actually has a decent steal rate in limited minutes. At the very least, the pick-and-roll defense has to improve so that Wake Forest has better effective field goal percentage defense. Far too often they hedge too far and give up an easy bucket underneath.
Wake's second biggest problem is that they do not do a very good job of taking care of the ball on offense. They turn the ball over on 20% of their possessions. That can mostly be traced back to Bryant Crawford averaging 4.1 turnovers per game. Cornelius Hudson, Doral Moore, and Trent Van Horn also have very high turnover rates. Doral really needs to work on setting legal screens. Codi had 4 turnovers the other night, but his ability to protect the ball should be a big asset to this team moving forward.
I'm also concerned about Bryant Crawford shooting just 32% from inside the arc. Hopefully he will not have to force as many shots now that Codi is back. In general, he should also be learning to make better decisions with the ball. I believe the next eight games are massively important for the Deacs. Wake has to win the game against Coastal Carolina, and then really needs to win at least one of Xavier, LSU, Louisville, and Duke. How well we play in those games, and not just the final score, will tell us a lot about this team. Though, if we win any of those games, then it's very likely that we will have played very well. In the following three games, Wake Forest will host North Carolina State and Syracuse, while also traveling to Virginia Tech. At that point Wake will have played nine games at full strength against a wide variety of teams.
Wake has the talent to be a postseason team this year, and they are still in position to do so. The improvement, or lack thereof, that Wake Forest makes over the next eight games will be very telling about how well Wake Forest will perform over the remainder of the season. I'm optimistic based on our talent level, but the team is going to have to execute. They should start with a strong showing tonight.