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Previewing the Remainder of Wake Forest’s ACC Schedule

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A look at what Wake has to do in ACC play to have a chance at making the NCAA Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Wake Forest began ACC play with a difficult loss to the Florida State Seminoles on Wednesday evening in Tallahassee. Given that a lot of Wake fans have been focused on either the bowl game, or just Wake’s team, I thought it would be a good idea to give an overview of what to expect out of conference opponents.

I decided to break our remaining conference games into tiers based on win expectancy. Within each tier I’ll share my opinion on what the most important games to win are.

Tiers

Must Wins

Boston College (January 3rd)

Georgia Tech (February 4th)

at Boston College (January 31st)

Wake Forest is fortunate in that they play Boston College twice, so that should provide a nice boost to the conference record. Wake has more than a 90% chance to beat BC at home, and nearly an 80% chance to beat them on the road. Georgia Tech has barely beaten Wofford and NC A&T at home over the past week, so beating the Yellow Jackets at home is another must win. Unless Wake Forest is a lot better than they’ve shown, and has a bigger margin for error than I think, then Wake needs to go 3-0 in these games to have a shot at tournament play.

Should Wins

NC State (February 11th)

Pittsburgh (February 22nd)

The Deacs have a 69% chance (nice) to beat Pitt, and a 68% chance (almost nice) to beat the Pack in Winston-Salem. The win probabilities begin to drop after these games, so while Wake doesn’t have to win both of these games, it’s extremely important to win at least one.

Toss Ups

Miami (January 18th)

Clemson (December 31st)

The Clemson game is a complete toss-up, while Wake will be about a two-point favorite over the Hurricanes. If Wake can only win one of the two, I’d definitely prefer the Clemson game because they are nearly a top 25 team, and the game is earlier in the season. Hopefully the Deacs can knock off the Tigers on NYE and boost the record prior to challenging games against Virginia and North Carolina, respectively. The Miami game is also important, however, as it comes directly before three games in which Wake Forest will be an underdog.

Slights Underdogs

at NC State (January 21st)

at Syracuse (January 24th)

Louisville (March 1st)

at Virginia Tech (March 4th)

This section features four games that are very winnable, but games in which Wake will be slight underdogs. These games will test Wake’s infamous record on the road in ACC games. Wake is better than NC State and Syracuse, but will have to win on the road. They’ve come extremely close to winning at both locations over the past two seasons, but haven’t closed the deal.

Wake will conclude its home schedule with a tilt against Louisville, with the Deacs having a week to prepare for this contest. Louisville is currently 6th in the country, but is beatable because they aren’t a good shooting team. That said, they are elite defensively.

Wake has to win one of these, but it would be extremely beneficial to steal two. If they can only win one, then ideally they knock off the Cardinals.

Reason for Optimism

at Notre Dame (February 7th)

Duke (January 28th)

North Carolina (January 11th)

at Clemson (February 14th)

It may seem wild, but Wake Forest actually has a better chance of beating either Duke or North Carolina at home than they do of beating Clemson on the road. Wake has a win probability between 24% and 28% in each of those games, with the expected value adding up to around 1 win. While all of these games have similar levels of difficulty, I expect that the NCAA Tournament selection committee will look more favorably at wins over UNC or Duke versus a road game against Clemson. It’s also possible, however, that they reward the team for winning a difficult game on the road.

Long Shots

at Virginia (January 8th)

at Duke (February 18th)

A win in either of these two games is nothing but icing on the cake. Wake has about a 10% win probability in each game, so expectations should be low. Still, these teams are both top 5 nationally and will go unbelievably far on Selection Sunday.

Wake Forest’s expected win total is 7.75 ACC wins.

Best Case

It’s always difficult to discuss “best case” scenario, because technically best case is a 17-1 ACC record. That said, I try to focus on “realistic best case” scenarios. I believe best case is Wake wins all three “must wins,” both “should wins,” both “toss ups,” two of the “slight underdogs” and one of the “reasons for optimism.” That gets Wake to 10-8 in the ACC, and 19-11 overall headed into the ACC Tournament. Depending on how some of the wins fall (i.e., win over Notre Dame vs. a win over Duke), then I think that record absolutely has Wake in great contention to make the NCAA Tournament.

Worst Case

Last year was certainly worst case scenario for Wake Forest. They won just two ACC contests, and lost a handful of games that were extremely tight late into the game. I believe worst case scenario this year is a little brighter, but there are still plenty of things that could go wrong.

I am fairly confident that Wake will win all three of the “must wins” but I’ll make no guarantees about winning an ACC road game, even if it is against Boston College. Wake has played well against State and Pitt in recent years, so I feel that they will win 1 of the games, but it’s entirely possible they get upset by at least 1 of the 2. I’ll combine the “Toss Up” and “Slight Underdog” sections and say that worst case is probably winning 1 of 6 of these contests, while losing all 4 of the “Reason for Optimism” games and none of the “Long Shot” games. That comes out to a record around 5-13 in ACC play, which would put Wake at just 14-16 on the season, and would require a run in the ACC Tournament to even make the NIT.

How do you all see Wake performing in ACC play?