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Playing With House Money: Why I Love Wake Forest’s NCAA Tournament Draw

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8 years ago, Wake Forest had one of the greatest regular seasons in school history, then got clowned by a Norris Cole-led Cleveland State, despite our side having 4 guys still playing solid roles in the NBA. This time, we just got in, but for now, I prefer it this way. Here’s why.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Virginia Tech vs Wake Forest Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into this season, I’d have taken what we’ve gotten 7 days a week and twice on Sunday. 30 in kenpom, 19 wins with a shot at 20, John Collins having gone relatively unheralded to an easy first round pick in 2 years thanks to incredible coaching and of course John’s incredible talent and work ethic. We went against a murderous schedule and gained 8 wins overall, 7 in conference. 3 road wins in conference. Multiple dogfights against quality teams. Peaking at the right time.

What we’re seeing now in the third year of the Manning Era is ALMOST everything a reasonable person could expect, and maybe even a little more than that. Better yet, the season isn’t over. On Tuesday, we face a Kansas State team that I hardly want to handwave but that I think we match up fairly well against. And what I want to do is talk about why Wake Forest has almost nothing to lose and plenty to gain. Our worst case scenario? We lose our play-in and lose John Collins to the draft. But we’ve got a good class coming in, and while they almost certainly wouldn’t fill a Collins-sized hole, they’re good.. Really good. Even beyond that, we have every reason to believe this coaching staff will keep recruiting and building. If we’ve come this far from where we were, why wouldn’t we grow at a similar pace (or even beyond) now?

We’ve got a pretty good chance at winning at least one game (at worst). Wake Forest, win or lose, is on every single bracket getting filled out across America. Our name is on people’s lips. High school ballers around America, heck, in every sport, will associate Wake Forest with quality, with heart, with effort, with rising from the ashes,, and hopefully with winning. Bryant Crawford, Keyshawn Woods, Konstantinos Mitoglou, Doral Moore, Brandon Childress, Mitch Wilbekin, and Sam Japhet-Mathias will be back, and those are the known quantities. For all we know, Donovan Mitchell and Rich Washington are waiting in the wings to do their thing next year. For all we know, Chaundee Brown will come in as advertised and kill it. For all we know, Melo Eggleston will be a sleeper. Maybe SJM will improve in a way John did; almost certainly not as much, but he wouldn’t need to with the junior core we would have.

And that’s all the worst case. Maybe we beat K-State. Maybe we beat Cincy and lose a shootout to UCLA. Maybe John Collins proves he’s more Tim Duncan than we thought and give us at least one more year. It’s all hypothetical. What’s not hypothetical is that Danny Manning is still our coach. What’s not hypothetical is we’ve been doing very well in recruiting even before now. What’s not hypothetical is that this team is full to the brim with competitors who have, almost to a man, developed impressively under this coaching staff that has gone toe to toe and even beaten Hall Of Famers..

Could we lose right away in an anticlimax? Absolutely. If John Collins leaves (which I’m sadly thinking he will), would we backslide? Almost without question. But the bottom line is these coaches and the quality of players in both skill and character that have been brought in have proven one thing. We’re no longer an afterthought. We’re Wake Forest.

Thinking back on it, 2008-2010 was, overall across both major sports, the zenith of an era.. What followed was a double nadir that was at times agony to sit through. Yet now, again, in both major sports, we’ve risen again and there are plenty of reasons to have faith for continued success, even if there are lulls. Whatever the case, we’re not stacked with talent. We’re not a sexy pick for much of anything, let alone a deep run. I’m fine with that, though. There’s almost no way we’re at a zenith yet. So let’s just see how much noise we make.

On to March Freakin’ Madness. Go Deacs..

--SF