The Wake Forest Demon Deacons are coming off a tough 69-65 loss at Xavier on Saturday night. The Deacs are now 8-3 and have just one game remaining in the non-conference portion of its schedule. Wake’s strong start has caught the attention of CBS Sports, as they have the Deacs making the NCAA Tournament in their latest bracketology projections. Is that realistic?
CBS is projecting that Wake Forest will be one of the last four teams to make the tournament, along with Michigan, Mississippi, and Iowa State. Wake Forest is currently 19th in Real Time RPI and 52nd in Ken Pom. ESPN does not currently have Wake making the tournament, but several of the teams ESPN has making it in are very similar to Wake Forest in terms of Ken Pom ranking.
Wake is projected to go 16-14 overall, including 8-10 in ACC play. Is that enough to get the Deacs in? I would say so, though I think they’d need to win the first game in the ACC Tournament. At this point, Wake has no bad losses, and the only opportunities for bad losses remaining are games against LSU, Boston College, and Georgia Tech. The Deacs also took on a challenging non-conference schedule, and played five true road games. While some of Wake’s wins aren’t spectacular in terms of name recognition, they have won in mostly convincing fashion. The 17-point victory over College of Charleston on the road was especially impressive.
Is there reason for pessimism? Absolutely. Wake Forest had an outstanding non-conference last season, as they went 9-3, including wins over Indiana, UCLA, Arkansas, and LSU. However, the Deacs went on to go just 2-16 in ACC play. One thing that should give Wake fans some reason for optimism, however, is that despite those wins, Wake Forest was ranked just 101st in Ken Pom after the non-conference schedule.
I would submit that John Collins is the best player that Wake has had since Al-Farouq Aminu, and his presence will enable us to compete in any game. Wake has also surrounded him with many capable shooters, and Wake will not be overly reliant upon one or two outside shooters, as has been the case in recent years. Wake’s defense has also gotten better since the season began, and that will be essential moving forward. Not only has individual/team defense been better, but they’ve done a better job of finishing possessions by securing defensive rebounds.
What are the biggest games remaining on the schedule? I will say that I believe Wake needs to beat LSU, Boston College (2x), and Georgia Tech at home. The Deacs should go 4-0 in those games. Other important games? I think home games against Clemson, Miami, and Louisville are very important. Wake will probably be slight favorites against Clemson and Miami, and beating fringe top 25 teams will do a lot for the resume. Wake’s home finale against Louisville is Wake’s best opportunity to get a signature win. Ken Pom gives Wake a 30% chance to win that one, and a win over a top 10 team will do wonders for the resume.
What do you all think of where Wake is right now? Do you all think Wake has a realistic chance to make the NCAA Tournament?