While Day One was headlined by the top overall seed 1995 Demon Deacon squad, four new teams looking to grab the title of "Greatest Wake Forest Basketball Team" start their journey to the championship. Most notably the 1961-62 Wake Forest team, the lone Final Four team in program history, plays their first game of the tournament against an upstart 1980-81 team looking to stun the field. In the second game, the 1996-97 team led by senior Tim Duncan takes on the 1959-60 team which began a three-year run of dominance in ACC play culminating with the 1962 Final Four berth.
1. 1961-62 Demon Deacons v. 4. 1980-81 Demon Deacons
The 1962 Demon Deacons finished an impressive back-to-back campaign as ACC Tournament champions and advanced all the way to the Final Four on the backs of Len Chappell and Billy Packer. This team began the season ranked third in the nation, but struggled over the first half of the season en route to a 9-8 record. Wake was able to rattle off a series of wins over the latter half of conference play and entered the NCAA Tournament without a loss since February 8th. Avenging two earlier season losses at the hands of Duke, the Deacs knocked off the 7th-ranked Blue Devils at home in mid-February and won all three ACC Tournament games by double digits. Chappell was named ACC Player of the Year for the second consecutive season and Bones McKinney just missed out on completing a "three-peat" as ACC Coach of the Year.
The 1980-81 Demon Deacons could potentially pose some matchup problems for McKinney's 1962 squad. With the trio of Jim Johnstone, Al Rogers, and Guy Morgan inside, who combined for a total average of 32.9 points and 16.7 points per game, Carl Tacy's 1981 squad got through the regular season with an overall record of 21-5. Despite a semifinal loss in the ACC Tournament to UNC by only one point, the Deacs entered the 1981 Tournament with relatively high hopes but were upended by Boston College (#therivalry), ending Wake's season at 22-7 overall. Frank Johnson led the team in scoring with 16.2 points per game and the Deacs would be ranked as highly as third while jumping out to an impressive 14-0 start. This team is ranked as the 11th best in the 1981 season by Sports Reference's SRS metric and the Deacons are looking to make a run as an upstart against a daunting 1962 team.
Can Frank Johnson and the interior presence of the 1981 team put enough pressure on Chappell inside to get the two-time ACC Player of the Year out of rhythm?
1. 1961-62 Demon Deacons
4. 1980-81 Demon Deacons
2. 1996-97 Demon Deacons v. 3. 1959-60 Demon Deacons
Led by senior Tim Duncan, the 1997 Demon Deacons entered the season ranked 4th in the nation and never dropped out of the top ten for the entire year. The team was looking to replicate the previous two years and capture a coveted third consecutive ACC title but their bid fell just short at the hands of North Carolina in the ACC semifinals. Despite this loss, the Deacs entered the Big Dance at 23-6 and grabbed a three seed, but were upset in the second round by Stanford 72-66, thus ending the Big Fundamental's illustrious collegiate career. Alongside Duncan, Tony Rutland and Jerry Braswell both chipped in around ten points per game and seven-foot freshman Loren Woods contributed a handful of starts while averaging 6.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Despite the loss to Stanford in the second round of the Tournament, the SRS metric ranks this as the top Wake Forest team over the past 35 years (ahead of even the previous two editions of Tim Duncan's squads). Can they get retribution and claim the title as best Wake team ever? First they'll have to get past the 1960 Demon Deacons coached by Bones McKinney.
Bones McKinney claimed his first of back-to-back ACC Head Coach of the Year awards on the back of a 1960 season which saw the Deacons claim the regular season ACC crown for the first time. Wake entered the ACC Tournament 19-6 and looked ready to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in several years as only the champions of each conference advanced to the Tournament that season. After rattling off two wins in ACC Tournament to run their win streak to ten games and get to 21-6, Wake took a crushing 63-59 loss to a solid Duke team and just like that the season was over. Led by Dave Budd and Len Chappell this team is almost certainly the best Wake squad to never participate in an NCAA Tournament and even as a sophomore, Chappell will be hard to contain inside.
This Duncan-Chappell battle pits a sophomore Len against a senior Duncan where the advantage likely tilts in Timmy's favor. This may be the first of multiple matchups throughout the tournament of different editions of Timmy and Len battling it out as each individual has three different teams in the sixteen team bracket. Who takes down this first round matchup between 1997 and 1960?
2. 1996-97 Demon Deacons
3. 1959-60 Demon Deacons
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As a reminder you can vote as many times as you like and we would love to have some discussion about each matchup in the comments section below. If you have any questions or concerns please let us know and we hope you are enjoying the tournament! And as always...go Deacs!