Wake Forest’s game against #2 UVA can be called a lot of things: David vs. Goliath, a big game, a chance at revenge for the heartbreak in Charlottesville, a pending execution. It could be called a pending upset bid, or it could be called a chance for the Cavaliers to prove that they’re still a force even without the still-injured Justin Anderson. Whatever your choice of characterization, I look at the game as something very simple, but also complex. I look at this game as an opportunity. Vince Lombardi’s old adage of "winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing" is a statement many people would agree with. I wouldn’t really agree with it in this case, but there is another old cliché that I would say probably applies in this case. Wake Forest, if you ask me, has everything to gain and nothing to lose. If they can fully embrace that attitude, if they can channel that and play loose and fearless, then I believe that’s what can take the Deacs to victory.
Let’s go through some hypothetical scenarios. What’s the worst possibility for Wake? What’s the best? We’ll start with the worst. Let’s get really over the top with it, really go into the darkest timeline for a bit. So, worst case scenario, Wake gets blown off the court by a team with a decent shot at a number one seed not only in the ACC Tournament, but also the NCAA Tournament. Oh well. They’re an excellent team, and teams more complete than ours have been blown off the floor by Virginia this season. Let’s say, god forbid, Wake loses a player or two to injury. The likelihood of a career ender is miniscule. The season in general is largely a wash other than playing for pride and trying to build for the future, so even in that worst case, there is sadness and trepidation about someone having to go through the struggles of injury, but they’ll likely come back stronger and better next year, much like with the rest of the team. Maybe this worst case scenario gives the #MaybeManningOut crowd a little more ammo (as an aside, I think we’ve reached peak hashtag absurdity; the fact that anyone wants Manning out already or is even considering it baffles me on a level I can’t possibly articulate). Oh well again. The fact is that the future appears to be more than a little bright, and win or lose that’s not going to change against UVA.
However, let’s get out of gloom and doom territory. What if Wake Forest wins? We slay a top five opponent in the Joel. We get another ACC win. Coach Manning would have a decent shot at matching Jeff Bzdelik’s best ACC win total in his first season. The fan base will be thrilled (or they should be, anyway). Recruits will take notice (looking at you, Harry Giles). Wake will have avenged a painful, frustrating road loss. Maybe, just maybe, a win against UVA will be another step down the road of rebuilding for the Demon Deacons. Before long, maybe Wake won’t be a "bad loss" to Joe Lunardi anymore. Maybe we’ll be in the thick of the ACC more often than we’re dwelling in the cellar. Maybe Danny Manning will continue garnering national attention as a head coach Ron Wellman got a hold of ahead of the curve, leaving fanbases and Athletic Directors around the country thinking "what if" or "if only". Maybe, before long, we’ll have a group of Screamin’ Demons like the ones I knew in the late Prosser-Gaudio days, where any ESPN broadcast, especially in primetime, was a sea of black and gold tie dye worthy of a PA introduction as the sixth man. Maybe it will be the athletic equivalent of, to borrow another cliché, "the first day of the rest of your life".
Sure, It’s probable Wake will lose. It’s a long shot. My happiest timeline is incredibly unlikely to occur. But the important thing is that it really makes it clear that the Deacs have a whole lot to gain, and very, very little to lose. Not only that, there’s a very good shot that the Decs will give the Hoos all that they can handle and then some. Wake Forest has an opportunity this game. The biggest question remains whether or not they take it.