Last night was the latest chapter in the book of disappointment that has been written over the past 7 years about Wake Forest basketball. At times this book feels as thick as Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and certainly drags on as much as it did. The Demon Deacons led 11th ranked Virginia 29-28 at the half in Charlottesville, looking for their first win in 20 conference road games under Coach Danny Manning.
The first ten minutes of the second half started out well enough, but an all too familiar story then played out, as a 19-4 second half run doomed the Deacs, and sent them to their 24th consecutive ACC road loss.
In a vacuum the game wasn’t all that unexpected if you looked at the final score. A “heave’ by Marial Shayok produced a 79-62 final, but the game was played much closer than that throughout. Virginia is certainly better than Wake Forest, especially on their home court, but it’s the fifth loss out of six this year that has played out in this manner.
It is pretty obvious at this point that Wake Forest has enough talent in their starting five, and maybe even 6 guys, who can compete at an ACC level night in and night out. This provides pretty good context from a macro-view as to why the Deacs are able to stay with almost anybody for 30 minutes. The issue then becomes closing out games against top level teams and playing a full 40 minutes. That has yet to happen this season against a top tier team.
Breaking down the schedule this year, Wake Forest has performed exactly as KenPom has projected for each game. It puts the Deacs at 10-6 (1-3), with a home game against North Carolina on Wednesday night at 8 PM (ESPN2) looming large.
If Wake manages to figure out a way to win that game (29% chance) they are actually ahead of what is expected so far this season. That may come as a pretty big shock to a lot of people, but the Demon Deacons are still expected to finish the season 16-14 (7-11 in the ACC), which would probably put them in the NIT for a post-season trip for the first time since 2010.
Wake Forest is currently 0-6 vs. “A-Tier” games, 3-0 vs. “B-Tier” games, and 7-0 vs “Any Other Tier” teams. The A-Tier is effectively top 50 teams in KenPom, adjusted for home/away, while B-Tier is 50-100, and the Other Tier is 100+.
That means Wake Forest has beaten every single team 50 or below in KP this season, as expected. A bad team does not do this, and it certainly doesn’t do it on the road against teams like Richmond and College of Charleston.
Since the Deacs have fared exactly as KenPom expected, they have not experienced a lot of change in his rankings either. They started the season 76th, and moved to 42nd to enter conference play. They currently sit at 44th, and with the 12th toughest schedule in the country, that continues to go up slightly as our opponents continue to win.
I hope to get another article out this week examining what exactly goes wrong in the second half of these games. I have a few hypotheses, and they are likely the same as yours: substitution patterns, increase in 3-point shots, defense relying on offense (meaning if a shot doesn’t fall we don’t play as hard on defense), and by proxy of the increase in 3-pointers, John Collins doesn’t get the touches that he should.
The point to this stream-of-consciouness article is that the sky is not falling. Yes, these games are particularly frustrating because they all follow the same blueprint and we are all tired of losing. We are tired of the 24 straight road losses, the 4-57 road record over the past 61 ACC games, the ranking 15th out of 15 teams in the ACC from a standings viewpoint.
This team is better than than the past few years though, and it’s not a stretch to say they are much better. If the season ended today (obviously a long way to go), it would be the highest ranking Wake Forest team since 2009 (finished 24th), with the next closest being 58th in 2010, and 118th (last year under Manning and 2014 under [name redacted]).
Once again, I want to reiterate—-we ALL want to win now and are tired of losing, but this team has flaws that are common of an inexperienced and depth-deficient team. There are a lot of things that need to be corrected, both on and off the court, but I am optimistic that this can be turned around.
If Danny Manning can take a team full of freshmen and sophomores to 44th in KP (ahead of 5 other teams, and everybody’s seemingly favorite coached Buzz Williams Virginia Tech team just one spot ahead of us at 43), I have faith that adding Chaundee Brown and another year of experience next season will produce even more favorable results.
I get the frustration aimed at Manning and Crawford. As the head coach and the point guard the blame ultimately (fairly or unfairly) falls on their shoulders as the leaders of the team.
At this point it seems that every game is a referendum on the coaching of Manning and the capabilities of this team, and I think that’s an odd way to look at things. Manning is going to be our coach for certain the rest of this season, and probably next season as well, so assessing his positives and negatives is reasonable, but yelling about his capabilities game in and game out seems to be somewhat futile. This is probably a touch hypocritical given my ire towards our last basketball coach, so feel free to call a spade a spade.
This isn’t an article asking the fan base to calm down and accept what’s happening on the court from a win/loss standpoint, because despite the “process” that’s occurring, there are a lot of deficiencies that need to be addressed. At the end of the day the record is the only thing that matters, and God knows it works me up during the games when it all is occurring.
It is more of a “take the good with the bad” viewpoint, and realize that we are a lot better off than where we have been, which is expected of a Wake Forest basketball team, and still have a long way to go to get to where we want to be. Hopefully Danny Manning is the coach who can get us there.