On Saturday, Wake Forest had a seven-point halftime lead at #2 Virginia, but ultimately lost 61-60. On Tuesday, Wake Forest was down just two points at #10 Notre Dame, but ended up losing 88-75. This prompted the sports editor of the Old Gold & Black, Wake Forest's student newspaper, to write a piece on Thursday that criticized Wake's second half performances. The main statistic he cited was that in Wake's nine ACC losses (excluding Georgia Tech) Wake was been outscored by only seven points in first halves, but has been outscored by 55 in second halves. In only one of those games, Louisville, did Wake win the second half. I understand the frustration and appreciate the passion to write the piece, but disagree with the logic and the timing.
In any competition, the longer the event lasts, the more that favors the superior opponent. According to Verbal Commits' average star rating, Wake Forest ranks 13th out of 15 in the ACC at 2.667 stars/player. Wake is only ranked above Virginia Tech (2.639) and Boston College (2.500). Using that metric, Wake will end up being the lesser talented team in 16 of 18 conference games they play this season.
It's also humorous to me that this piece was written when it was. Let's consider for a moment that Wake Forest, who was a 17.5 point underdog to Virginia, had the ball with 12 seconds remaining down just one point. Yes, Wake Forest was outscored by eight in the second half, but can't that also be attributed to talent differential playing out over an extended period of time?
Not all of our second half "collapses" have been created equally. Against Duke, we outscored the Blue Devils by 2 in the first 10 minutes of the second half, but were outscored by 5 over the final 10 minutes. Against Syracuse we outscored the Orange by 6 in the first 10 minutes, but were outscored by 7 over the final 10 minutes of regulation. Against Virginia we were outscored by 17 over the first 10 minutes, but outscored them by 9 over the final 10. Notre Dame was 15 and 4, respectively.
I understand the frustration. Over the first 10 minutes of second halves in the past two games, we have been outscored by a combined 32 points. That's bad regardless of opponent. In the other seven losses discussed, however, we have only been outscored by a combined THREE points in the first 10 minutes of second halves. We are being outscored by 33 in the final 10 minutes of those seven contests, so something else besides halftime must be in play here.
That leads us back to my original point about talent differential. Danny Manning did not have this halftime adjustments problem at Tulsa. His Tulsa team won the C-USA tournament championship game by outscoring Louisiana Tech by 10 points in the second half. He started winning these games at Tulsa because he raised the talent level of the team. That's exactly what he has done in his time at Wake Forest. He put together a very respectable late 2014 recruiting class, and has a top 20 class signed for 2015. If these second half woes continue to happen, then we can dive deeper into a lack of adjustments being made. Until then, the only adjustment he needs to make is adding more talent to the roster.