Wake Forest announced their 2015-2016 non-conference basketball schedule today and it had a little different taste to it then past seasons. Wake scheduled a number of legitimate programs for their out-of-conference plate this year in what is likely the toughest OOC schedule in quite some time. Long gone are the days where Colgate, Tulane, and The Citadel are some of the fiercer opponents in Nov/Dec, as Manning decided to take a far more aggressive approach that could either pay off big time or leave the Deacs limping into Conference Play. Who are some of these opponents you ask? Let’s take a look at the 9 known non-conference opponents and what they bring to the table.
Here are some rankings and statistics of the programs and then some notes on the overall schedule.
-As you can see from the table above, Wake finished below 4 of the 9 known non-conference scheduled teams in Kenpom and BPI rankings last year and had a worse record than all but three.
-This isn’t even including the strong Maui Invitational teams that Wake will play at least 3 games against in early December. Indiana, Kansas, Vanderbilt, St. Johns, UCLA, and UNLV are all potential competitors during the winter showcase and Wake would do very well for itself if it could come out of the tournament with 2 wins. Those six programs had an average Kenpom ranking of 47.5 last year and four of them were NCAA tournament teams. Given all this, Wake’s strength of schedule will likely creep into the top 20 once the Maui Invitational bracket is announced.
-Some of these teams will be far better than last year thanks to some new additions. LSU, for example, added a consensus top 5 class in the nation with #1 recruit in the country Ben Simmons being the headliner of the group. Going down to Baton Rouge and beating their revamped squad on the road is going to be a lot to ask of this young Deacon team. Although given that it is after a few day winter holiday break, a game like this often comes down to who comes out hot straight of the gates and manages to hold on.
-Bucknell on the road is an absolute trap game. The Bison had a very strong conference season last year and likely should have been representative of the Patriot League for the NCAA’s. If you watched non-conference games last year, you’ll remember the BU vs. WF game was far from a walk in the park and the Deacs had some trouble putting Bucknell away in the second half. Watch out for Junior SG Chris Hass, who led their team in scoring with 16.0 PPG last season and had a game high 26 in our 2014 matchup.
-Though Arkansas will still be tough, they won’t be close to the same team that rocked us last year in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks were 16th in the country in points scored in the 2014-2015 season, but the two leaders of that category for them both declared for the NBA Draft in Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls. Those two also led the team in rebounds last year. Wake will have a great chance to get some revenge in early December against the SEC squad.
Having said all that, here are my predictions for how the non-conference portion of the season will turn out:
Ned: Best case scenario: 9-3 with a pair of wins in Maui and some nice revenge against Arkansas at Home. Worst case scenario: 6-6 and panic ensues all across Deacon land as fans look to the basketball Gods asking what we did to deserve this all over again. Likely scenario: 7-5. Deacs come away with just one win in Maui and play .500 play against the following: Rutgers, Xavier, Arkansas, LSU, Richmond, and Bucknell. It isn’t exactly what we hoped for, but it’s not totally unacceptable given the tough competition. As always, there will be chances to make up for it in ACC play as long as we can stay in games against the top 25 teams.
Seeing the difficult schedule doesn't deter my excitement for the 2015-2016 Deacon basketball season at all. Wake will have a far more competitive and exciting team this year than in 2014, and the intense non-conference schedule might be just what this team needs to prepare itself for tight games when it matters later in ACC play. Only time will tell if it will pay off, but you can't blame Manning for showing a level of ambition this program hasn't seen for the better part of a decade. Lace up and go Deacs!