Even after a loss to Notre Dame, the Wake Forest men’s basketball team is poised to have their first winning season since the 2013-14 season.
The Deacons are now looking for an invitation to the coveted NCAA Tournament, which would be the school’s first trip since 2010. Since Wake Forest has not participated in March Madness for seven years, let’s examine the criteria the NCAA Tournament Committee uses to select teams, discuss Wake Forest’s current resumé and examine what the Deacons need to do with their remaining games to punch their ticket to the Big Dance.
What Does the NCAA Committee Look At?
The 68 team field is comprised of 32 automatic bids reserved for conference champions and 36 at-large schools chosen by the NCAA Selection Committee. Although overall record remains important, the committee needs different ranking systems to analyze teams based off the quality of their competition. The NCAA Tournament Committee utilizes a mix of computer metrics, statistical data and their own objective opinions (the “eye test”) for selecting and seeding teams. The Rating Percentage Index (RPI), Sagarin, and Ken Pom are computer rankings that the committee values as well as more formal statistics including strength of schedule, quality wins and losses, conference record, road record and injuries to key players.
Wake Forest’s Current Resumé
The team coached by Danny Manning is currently 14-10 overall and 5-7 in the ACC, arguably the best conference in the country. The computers have a high opinion of the Deacons, as they ranked 28th in the RPI, 33rd in Ken Pom and 42nd in the Sagarin ratings. The Deacons also boast an impressive strength of schedule — 13th in the country, and have zero losses against the sub-100 RPI teams. As of now, Wake Forest’s worst loss is considered Syracuse, ranked 69th in the RPI, and Jim Boeheim’s team is currently playing their best basketball of the season and appears a likely NCAA Tournament team. These numbers would usually mean a team is a lock for one of the 36 at-large spots. However, the Deacons have no high-profile wins on their resume and are currently 0-9 against RPI top-50 teams.
This lack of a signature win has Wake Forest squarely on the bubble. Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s resident bracketologist, has the Demon Deacons as one of the last teams in the field, while CBS Sports’s Jerry Palm has them in the first four out.
What do the Deacons need to do the rest of the season?
Assuming Wake Forest does not win the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, NY this coming March, the last six games are crucial for Wake Forest to make the NCAA Tournament. Even though the “eye test” shows that the Wake Forest can play with the best teams in the nation, the deapth of wins against any top-50 RPI competition means the Deacons are still without a key component of their resumé.
The Deacs still have games at Clemson, at Duke, Louisville at home and at Virginia Tech. If Wake Forest wins two of these games against the RPI top-50, then that will go a long way with the selection committee.
In addition, the team cannot afford a loss to NC State this Saturday at the Coliseum or at Pittsburgh in two weeks. Lastly, the Deacons might earn a 10-13 seed for the ACC Tournament, which means they cannot get knocked-out in the first round.
Overall, Wake Forest needs to finish the regular season 4-2 and perform well in the conference tournament to remain competitive for an at-large berth. This leaves little room for error, but at least we are back in the NCAA conversation.
Hopefully come March, we will all be skipping class to watch the Deacs on a Thursday afternoon, playing in the most exciting tournament in American sports.