The 2016-2017 Wake Forest Men’s Basketball schedule was fully released yesterday and it featured an updated look at the Deacs’ ACC slate. Once again Wake Forest will play every ACC team once plus Home & Homes against Duke and NC State, although this year BC and Clemson will be the other repeat matchups. Now that we have the official ACC calendar, it’s time to ask the big question: Is this year’s schedule easier or harder than in 2015-16? It’s a close call, but a few signs point to it being a touch more favorable this season.
First and foremost, Wake’s non-conference schedule is a slight notch down from what it was last year for a variety of reasons. The shift from the Maui Invitational to the Charleston Classic as an early season tournament will definitely make things lighter for the Deacs even though they are likely to get the defending National Champions Villanova in the 2nd round. Last year Wake went 2-1 against three very competitive teams in Maui in Indiana, Vanderbilt, and UCLA. Rather than starting off their invitational against one of the best teams in the Big 10, WF will open against #215 RPI ranked UTEP and will likely close with a team hovering around the #100 RPI mark (Boise, Miss St, UCF, or Charleston). There’s a very high chance that Wake finishes with the same 2-1 record in this year’s tournament, but it would be a far less resume-padding experience than in 2015.
Beyond the trip to Charleston, Wake has a game vs. Northwestern in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge that statistically was a weaker team in 2015-16 than their 20-12 record would let on. The usual cupcakes with teams like Coastal Carolina, UNCG, Radford, and Charlotte all remain, while the Skip Prosser Classic is Wake’s definitive best chance at a huge non-conference win located in Cincinnati this year. The rest of their out-of-conference slate is filled with a few teams that had uncharacteristically disappointing 2015-16 seasons, most notably Richmond, Bucknell, and the Ben Simmons University Tigers.
Given the fact that there are a number of similar non-conference opponents between 2015 and 2016, let’s look at straight team swaps and compare it in that format. As you can see, the averages of the two groups are nearly identical, and yet the opportunity WF has for big wins is far more limited.
While UMBC was statistically far worse than Radford last season, the whole verdict on the game is pretty much the same: Win by a lot and the benefits are minimal, lose and it’s an absolute disaster. In that sense, the swap is hardly an upgrade and is an outlier compared to the other matchups. As for the tournament games, I don’t think anyone can argue the talent gap between Indiana and UTEP is larger than that of Villanova and Vanderbilt, and UCLA of course has an edge on whoever Wake would play in the 3rd round in Charleston.
The 49ers of Charlotte are obviously a huge downgrade from a consistently decent SEC squad in Arkansas as well. The real question is just how good Northwestern is this year. If they can have a surprise showing and finish near the top of the wide-open Big Ten West Division, then that game could carry a lot more weight than it looks like it has on the surface right now.
Updated ACC Power Rankings: Duke, UVA, UNC, Louisville, Syracuse, VT, Clemson, FSU, Miami, NC State, Pitt, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, BC, GT.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 28, 2016
As for the ACC season, Wake was given a gift by the committee in landing BC (and even Clemson) twice. They also benefit greatly by not having a vital conference game in early January before any of the students come back to campus, something that has become an unfortunate trend over the last couple of years. Most importantly, however, is the sheer number of winnable games at the Joel that can allow for the Deacs to move up valuable spots in the standings. Clemson, BC, Georgia Tech, Miami, NC State, and Pittsburgh all come and visit at some point in the season, which I think is a major plus in terms of how the year could play out. I would much rather have the games when you are major underdogs (UVA, UNC, Syracuse) on the road if it means you have more toss-up matchups on your home court.
Not everyone agrees with that logic, but I think in the end the W-L record usually benefits by having that sort of setup rather than the other way around. If you can steal a game on the road against a top ten team, great. But if you don’t at least you have a bunch of opportunities to be potential favorites and play in front of your home crowd on the schedule.
First time through the Wake schedule (just guessing), I get 16-14 (7-11 in ACC play). Would be a 5 game improvement in ACC and overall.— Riley Johnston (@BSD_RaJohnston) September 12, 2016
Wake also avoided having a 2016-17 “Death Stretch” of 4 or 5 games in a row against some of the top teams in the conference, which is key. Last season the Deacs took on Syracuse, UNC, Miami, UVA, and Notre Dame back-to-back x5 at a time when the team simply needed a confidence boosting win to get back on its feet. No such lineup is on the schedule this year, though the toughest part of the season does look to be @UVA, UNC, and Miami 1/8 through 1/18. It’s the ACC after all; you can only avoid the big boys for so long.
In the end, here’s a comparison of the 2015 and 2016 schedules based on final 2015-16 RPI and Kenpom rankings. As I said before, things look slightly easier given the few changes this year.
That’s all for the early season schedule preview. We’ll be posting more in-depth analyses on the whole year as we get closer to tip-off on 11/11. Thanks for reading and Go Deacs!
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