It may be hard to believe, or dumb to say, but the next four games for Wake Forest will likely make or break the season as far as postseason play is concerned. This may seem like an asinine, overhyped comment on the surface, but once you dive into the schedule a little bit, it begins to make more and more sense.
Currently Wake Forest sits at 9-4 (0-1), having completed its non-conference schedule, and holding 17 ACC games in front of them. This upcoming four game stretch is extremely important for two reasons: first of all, the ACC is ridiculously difficult this year, and three of the four games are at home, with only road game coming at Virginia Tech. Secondly, this is the easiest four game stretch the rest of the way for the Deacs.
The games are listed below, with the KenPom projected winning percentage in parentheses next to each one:
1/6/15- Duke (26%)
1/10/15- N.C. State (61%)
1/13/15- @ Virginia Tech (39%)
1/16/15- Syracuse (57%)
KP is projecting the Deacs to win just 1.83 out of the 4 games. I would argue that if Wake Forest wants to make the NCAA Tournament that at least 3/4 need to be won, if not 4/4. The reason why? Take a look at the four games after Syracuse:
1/20/15- @ North Carolina (9%)
1/23/15- @ Miami (9%)
1/25/15- Virginia (22%)
1/31/15- @ Notre Dame (18%)
The win percentage for those 4 games is a whopping .58 out of 4 games. Those are three out of the top 12 teams in the nation according to KP, and Notre Dame sits at 32nd, which in itself is a tall task to win on the road against.
While I do believe that Wake Forest is likely underrated by Ken Pomeroy for a variety of reasons, it is a daunting task to look at those games and try to figure out where the wins will come from.
With this team I feel confident that we will be competitive in most games we play, but even the biggest optimist in me finds very little chance of winning more than one of those final four games. Miami is probably the best team in the conference in my opinion. If they aren't, then UNC is, and despite a loss to VPI last night, if UNC isn't, Virginia is. That is a brutal stretch of four games to play.
The Demon Deacons have done very well up to this point in the season, already securing 5 Power 5 wins before the calendar flipped, but the next four games are absolutely crucial to any NCAA Tournament hopes that we might holds as fans. If Danny Manning can get through Syracuse at 3-2 in the ACC, or if we somehow secure all four victories and get to 4-1, I will be sold on the team and truly believe it has turned the corner. Anything less than that and I think the NIT will be the ceiling.
The second half of ACC play will provide Wake with some chances to get the win total up, but it has to be within striking distance of 6th-8th in the ACC standings to appeal to the committee. I still think that a 9-9 record in ACC play, along with a win or two in the ACC Tournament will put Wake Forest squarely on the bubble come Selection Sunday.
It also bears noting that Wake Forest currently ranks 22nd in the nation in Strength of Schedule, and over its next 8 games will play 5 top 32 teams, while only venturing out of the top 100 once (@Virginia Tech). By the end of the year the Deacs will almost certainly have a top 5-10 hardest schedule in the nation.
While it is still early in ACC play, there is little doubt in my mind that the next four games will serve as a microcosm of what to expect for the season moving forward, and where the team will land following the ACC Tournament in early March.