What does Wake Forest need to do to reach the Big Dance?


Wake Forest has made its path to an NCAA tournament berth about as difficult as possible.

Following a road loss to Notre Dame, the Deacons have boxed themselves into a corner; only an almost perfect finish to the season is likely to get them to the Big Dance.

Wake Forest stands at 14-10 overall, 5-7 in the conference. The Deacons have six games remaining: home against NC State, on the road against Clemson and Duke, home against Pitt and Louisville, and at Virginia Tech.

A realistic look at those six games would have the Deacons finishing 2-4, with wins over NC State and Pitt, giving them a 16-14 record and a 7-11 conference mark. The Deacons have exactly zero wins so far against top-50 RPI teams.

The secret to the stretch run is simple: not just wins, but impressive wins, are needed.

While the strength of the ACC will help the Deacons’ case, the conference has so many bubble teams that Wake needs at least one, maybe two, big victories. Wake Forest is the only ACC bubble team without an RPI top-50 win — in fact, the only other ACC team without at least one is Boston College.

If that doesn’t change, other Power Five bubble teams would have an easy path to getting bumped ahead of Wake Forest. Mid-majors with strong records would also come into play.

Essentially, Wake Forest’s case would be that it finished close to .500 in what many believe is the toughest conference in the nation. But while that may help the numbers, it doesn’t pass the eye test: You shouldn’t make the NCAA tournament by only beating the teams below you in the conference standings.

So let’s give the Deacons two more wins, getting them to 18 overall and to a .500 conference mark. If the wins are against Clemson and Virginia Tech, even though those are road games, it still might not be enough.

Then there’s the ACC Tournament. The Deacons could erase a mistake or two in the final month with an impressive showing there. But that’s a lot to ask from this program: Wake Forest has just one league tournament win in the last nine years. Barring a strong close to the season, two or three ACC Tournament wins might ultimately be needed to make the difference.

Without an NCAA tournament invite, Wake would be left looking back at chances where it came up just short: Northwestern and Xavier come to mind, and no games were more painful than Duke and Clemson. Win even two of those games, and this is a much different conversation.

On the bright side, an NIT bid would be a major improvement for a program that has only had one winning season in the past six. But with the looming possible departure of John Collins, missing a shot to make the NCAA tournament could be a tough blow to Danny Manning’s rebuilding process.