Wake Forest and Danny Manning may have righted the ship, posting three victories in a row after Thanksgiving. But the question is: Did the first week of the season doom the Deacons to missing the NCAA Tournament?
Since the season is more than four months long, it’s difficult to believe that three games in the first week may make that kind of difference; however, disastrous losses to Georgia Southern, Liberty and Drake could put the Deacons in a position they won’t be able to escape.
ESPN’s version of the RPI has Wake Forest at 149 and ahead of only Pitt in the ACC, although other ratings are more sympathetic. ESPN’s BPI has Wake at 89 (also putting them ahead of Georgia Tech and Boston College), and Ken Pomeroy has WFU at 73 (also ahead of N.C. State).
The Deacons may have found their way past the loss to Georgia Southern, and the later one to Houston — as both are ranked in the top 100 by KenPom. But it’s a different story with the losses to Drake (192 Pomeroy, 198 ESPN RPI) and Liberty (165 Pomeroy, 263 ESPN RPI).
The losses not only make it more difficult for Wake Forest to reach a victory total that the NCAA committee will consider, but also gives them two terrible losses when they’re compared with other teams.
Let’s see if there’s a route to get the Deacons into the tournament:
- Wake Forest needs to win its final four non-conference games. Three should be straightforward, if the Deacons truly are on track: Charlotte, Army and Coastal Carolina are all below 150 in Pomeroy’s ranking. The test will be a home game against Tennessee on Dec. 23. Tennessee is 24th in Pomeroy’s ranking and already has beaten three ACC teams: Clemson, N.C. State and Georgia Tech. Its only loss is to a top-five Villanova team. This is the Deacons’ final chance to make a statement against a non-ACC team.
- That puts Wake Forest at 8-4 with one signature win. A loss to Tennessee would leave the Deacons at 7-5, and in need of a stellar ACC season. Looking at the past five seasons, it appears the Deacons will need at least 19 wins and a .500 record in the ACC. Let’s assume Wake wins one ACC Tournament game. Obviously, a 9-9 record would leave it a game short of 19 wins, so it looks like a 10-win conference season will be needed.
- Let’s say the Deacons win four of six against the four teams ranked below them by Pomeroy. Unfortunately for Wake Forest, four of those six will be on the road, making that task even more difficult. Wake is home-and-home against N.C. State and Georgia Tech (including the season-ender) and plays B.C. and Pitt on the road. The Deacons still need to find six more ACC wins.
- Wake Forest plays seven home games: Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke, Florida State, Clemson and Notre Dame. All are ranked in the top 58 by Pomeroy — with Duke, Virginia and Notre Dame in the top 16. Let’s give the Deacons three wins in these games. They need three more wins.
- The rest of Wake Forest’s road games will be a struggle, and road conference games are already a problem area for the program. Wake hasn’t won more than two road ACC games in a season since 2008-09. The Deacons travel to UNC, Duke, Louisville, Miami and Syracuse. All but Syracuse are in Pomeroy’s top 25. Right now, even being optimistic, it would be difficult to see more than two wins in that group.
So even in our reasonably favorable scenario, the Deacons are at least a win short. Can Manning find more wins? Sure, Wake Forest could win all six against the teams ranked below them, for instance, or win one or two more of their home games.
So there’s a path. But it’s not too clear, and it has absolutely no margin for error. In the difficult ACC, Manning and the Deacons already could be playing for an NIT berth.