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Wake Forest Gameday: Top 10 Wins of the 2016-17 Season So Far

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Tonight is a huge game. Let’s recap the 10 biggest wins that led to this.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The day is finally here! Your Wake Forest Demon Deacons are just a few hours away from making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 7 years and being back in the Big Dance. Of course, tonight represents the biggest game of the Danny Manning era and is arguably the most significant since the Deacs took on UK in the 2nd round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

Blogger So Dear will have you covered with plenty of coverage throughout the day to get you prepped for K-State, but there are a lot of other games too that helped get us here that need to be remembered. Want to explore some of the best moments of the 2016-17 Wake Forest basketball season? You’ve come to the right place. Here are my rankings for the Top 10 Wins of the Year by Danny Manning and the Deacs. Enjoy!

Note: Rankings based on game significance, performance, and drama. Also entirely subjective and I encourage discussion in the comments.

10. “The Charleston aWAKEning” Wake Forest 103-81 UTEP

Okay, I’ll admit on paper it doesn’t look like that big of a win. After all, beating an average C-USA side by 22 on a neutral site does very little in terms of pushing your program in the right direction. The reason it cracks the list is strictly for the message it sent to the entire fanbase about the emergence of a special player: John Collins. The sophomore big man posted a (then) career-high 24 points on 9-10 shooting and helped the Deacs reach triple digits for the first time in 8 seasons.

It signaled that the newly revamped Wake Forest squad would be one of high scoring, fast-paced fun and that if there was one thing we didn’t have to worry about this season it was getting the ball in the basket. With just under 4 minutes left in the 2nd half Wake was up on the Miners by 28 points. Who would’ve thought they’d be able to top that lead later on in the season. More on that in a little…

9. “Surviving The Bubble.” Wake Forest 81-69 Georgia Tech

After avoiding a complete disaster in Chestnut Hill just a few days earlier, Wake faced another ACC bubble team desperate for a quality win. All preseason cellar predictions for Georgia Tech were deemed void after they racked up huge wins against UNC, FSU, and ND in a 30 day span after Christmas.

But the Yellow Jackets knew they needed more than just a road win against VCU and NC State to enhance their resume and make up for some brutal non-conference losses earlier in the season (Hi, Ohio University). After 5 straight games of 20+ points, many thought John Collins would have trouble extending that streak against ACC DPOY Ben Lammers down on the low block. Instead, Collins continued to dominate and posted his 10th double-double of the year as the Deacs hit 40% of their outside attempts.

In a year full of anxious finishes, Wake finally gave us a game we could sit back and enjoy the 2nd half completely stress-free. We appreciate that, boys.

8. “Cold-Blooded Crawford.” Wake Forest 78-75 UNCG

In hindsight, it turns out this UNCG team wasn’t as bad as we thought they were earlier in the season. The Spartans put together a very respectable year and are now headed up to Syracuse to take on the Orange in what is now being deemed “The Boeheim-Boro Classic” (A reliable source says the winner gets property rights to the Greensboro Coliseum. Way to keep it interesting, NIT).

Even still, losing on the road to a SOCON side would’ve been a brutal pill to swallow given that Wake looked to be slowly turning things around early on in the season. The Deacs needed Bryant Crawford’s late game heroics with 2 seconds left to help fans forget the team blew a 16-point commanding lead earlier in the contest. In the end, Wake pushed on to 8-2 and spared itself an unnecessary discussion topic on Selection Sunday.

7. “Tempers, Tomahawks, and Brooms.” Wake Forest 88-58 NC State

This one was fun!

ACC Rivalry Ticket: $45

Prissy Polly’s BBQ Sandwich at the Joel: $8

Minute of Madness Keychain You Caught During TV Timeout: $.25

Watching NC State Basketball mentally and emotionally collapse over the course of 2 hours right before your eyes? Priceless.

All preseason long we had to listen to the media talking about how NC State was about to become an ACC powerhouse and Dennis Smith would takeover the league, and while the latter was close to happening a few times, everything was promptly silenced in our 30 point demolishment of the Pack on February 11.

Mark Gottfried saying “I told you so” to his players after finally running a successful play. A Blue Chip PG checking himself out of the game because he had seen enough. BeeJay Anya playing the most BeeJay Anya 14 minutes ever (4 fouls, 3 points, 1 bricked FT). This game had it all. Did I mention a season sweep of the Pack? That too.

6. “The First “Big” W.” Wake Forest 96-79 Miami

At this point of the season the Demon Deacons’ highlight win was over College of Charleston. Not to take anything away from the Cougars, but that’s not exactly the type of resume building victory the committee looks for when they are sitting down at their big oval table making the important decisions. Back-to-back games where Wake was competitive in the 2nd half only to fall (UVA and UNC) meant avoiding a 3 game losing streak was vital to prevent heading down a slippery slope.

The line was Miami -1.5. Wake won by 17. Here are some things that happened:

Wake shot 47% from 3-point land.

Wake hit 27 Free Throws in one game. 27.

John Collins set a new career high (again) of 27 points.

Those are the types of stats that get you back in the bubble discussion after a tough week. Without this win is Wake hearing their name called on Selection Sunday? I’m not so sure about that.

5. “Escaping Raleigh.” Wake Forest 93-88 NC State

Ending a 3-year long road drought is never supposed to be easy. That’s why despite the fact that Wake was up 9 with 42 seconds left @ NC State, I hesitated before thinking the W was a sure thing. For a moment, it looked as though I was right to pause. State hit two quick 3’s and then nearly forced a 3rd turnover that was tainted by a questionable out of bounds call on Terry Henderson to give the Deacs the ball with a few seconds to spare.

It wasn’t pretty, but Wake held on to its first road win of the Manning era, something they would go on to do two more times the rest of the season. It was more than just a gutsy victory against an underperforming Pack team, it was a sigh of relief for a team that desperately needed to prove to itself it could finally win away from home.

4. “It’s All About How You Close.” Wake Forest 89-84 Virginia Tech

After the thrill of upsetting a top 10 team on Senior Night less than 72 hours before, Wake still had work to do if it wanted to prove it belonged in the NCAA Tournament. The one goal that still eluded them? A Top 50 road win. And a Virginia Tech team that had just lost star wing Chris Clarke offered the perfect opportunity to accomplish that on the last game of the regular season. The Deacs didn’t make it easy on themselves, being down by as many as 10 with 16 minutes left in the game in a tough environment.

A 9-0 run in the 2nd half propelled Wake back into the mix before Bryant Crawford decided to takeover and will the team to victory. The sophomore was 13/14 from the line and scored 11 of his 26 in the final 8:14 to help the Deacs leave Blacksburg with a W and 9-9 in the ACC. I don’t know why, but there’s just something profoundly satisfying about finishing .500 in the ACC again and not just 8-10. I also can’t wait to hopefully look back someday and be amused that I even wrote that sentence.

3. “Never Tell Me The Odds.” Wake Forest 63-59 Pittsburgh

Staring at the final 5 games of the regular season, it became quite evident that the Deacs would need 3 in order to feel comfortable heading into the ACC tournament. 97 minutes into that group of 5, Wake was 0-2 and 19 points down to the 4-11 Pitt Panthers. The NCAA dream was all but over, and an NIT bid wasn’t guaranteed either at just 16 wins with a few more underdog games left on the schedule. What happened next was the largest comeback in Wake Forest basketball history and one of the more exciting games I’ve had the pleasure of watching at the Joel.

Slowly chipping away at the lead through careful shot selection and strong perimeter defense helped Wake to within 4 with three and a half minutes left. Austin Arians then hit arguably the biggest 3 of his Wake Forest career to bring the score to 57-56 and start a 10-2 Deacon run capped off by Brandon Childress dagger FTs. The game featured a level of heart I’ve never seen as a Wake Forest basketball fan (Est. 2012) and showed that this team wasn’t close to calling the season dead just yet. Something about the 2016-17 Deacs was different; They were confident, fearless, and composed throughout one of the biggest challenges they had faced. Plus I’ll never forget this picture.

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

2. “The Final Box To Check.” Wake Forest 92-78 Boston College

I had a hard time deciding how these last three games should be ordered if I’m being completely honest. In the end, the deciding factor was that this Boston College game had slightly more on the line simply because it 1) Prevented Wake from having a bad loss all season and 2) Gave the Deacs another shot at a Top 50 win in Round 2. If Wake loses the Pitt/VT game, they still could’ve saved themselves with a run of 2-3 games in the ACC Tournament. Lose to BC, and we’re just painfully sitting in the clubhouse with 5 days to spare hoping every single bubble game result goes our way.

This victory turned out to be the clinching piece to a season that had already far exceeded expectations. For once, the entire fan base felt truly confident we would be in the Big Dance after 7 long years. That collective moment of relief was worth the #2 spot all by itself.

  1. “I’ll See You on the Quad at Midnight.” Wake Forest 88-81 Louisville

I’m still trying to put into words the excitement I felt when the final whistle blew on March 1st at the Joel. Many of you reading this right now have been avid, loyal supporters of the Deacs through the good times and the bad, always in the back of your mind reflecting on the days Wake Forest Basketball was a household name. At times over the last few years you may have become frustrated, but it was all because you knew this program deserved so much better than the unfortunate hand it was dealt by Ron Wellman trying to clean up the culture of this team in 2010.

For me, and the thousands of other students in the few classes above, we always knew of that history and passion, but still felt inevitably distant from the program you all loved. The top seeds, the blue chip recruits, the sold out Joels; that wasn’t my Wake Forest, or at least it wasn’t the one I got to experience every year 15 times a season as I sat in the 5th row in a barren student section 10 minutes til tip-off. I wanted to feel that thrill, that weight of momentary significance, more than I could possibly tell you, but you can’t trick yourself into saying it’s there.

On March 1st, as I stormed that court with the realization Wake Forest was likely now headed back to the NCAA Tournament, I didn’t need to fake it; That feeling of belonging had finally hit me all at once. I embraced it with open arms.

The team had showed they too belonged with the best of the ACC all season long, but due to bad luck, bad timing, or inexperience had come up just short a handful of times. Yet on Senior Night in front of an anxious crowd, raucous student section, and Hall of Fame coach on the opposing sideline, they gave us the complete performance we had been waiting 7 years for in an ACC matchup. As I danced, yelled, and hugged random fans and players on the court, you could see how much this moment meant to so many people, and how everyone’s minds were finally ready to heal the wounds of the previous few seasons.

It might not have been a replica of one of the old “Battle of Top Ten Teams” or “ACC Championship Preview,” but those matchups honestly weren’t in my wildest dreams heading into this season. My wildest dream on Opening Day was once, just once, getting to feel like Wake Forest Basketball was on its way back to the place where it belongs.

As I sit here just hours before I witness my first NCAA Tournament game of our beloved team, I can finally say I’ve never been happier to check that box and be able to set a new dream even more ambitious than the last.