Can men’s basketball still make the dance?

Despite four straight losses, there is still an outside chance the Demon Deacons will make the NCAA Tournament


Cooper Sullivan

Damari Monsanto attempts to block a shot. His 25 points kept Wake Forest in the game.

Aaron Nataline, Sports Editor

With four straight losses in the past two weeks, it is difficult to imagine the Demon Deacons (14-9, 6-6) competing in the NCAA Tournament this year. Back-to-back defeats against Big Four rivals hurt, and so did missing the opportunity to sweep the Blue Devils (16-6, 7-4) in the regular season right in front of the Cameron Crazies. 

Another missed opportunity was securing a Quadrant 1 win with a victory over Duke. However, the advantage of playing in a well-balanced conference like the ACC is that such opportunities keep coming, and that is why I dare to hope that Wake Forest can still earn a bid to play in March Madness this year.

As per the NCAA Men’s Basketball NET Rankings, Quadrant 1 wins are earned when a team beats a top-30 team at home, a top-50 team at a neutral site or a top-75 team on the road. When it comes to NCAA tournament selection, the committee lends significant favor to teams with a favorable number of Quadrant 1 victories.

Quadrant 1 wins are, surprisingly, part of the statistic favoring Wake Forest this year.

The Demon Deacon faithful may be skeptical of their team’s chances of playing in March Madness during this four-game skid, especially given the context of last year’s finish. A 25-win Wake Forest team was denied selection by the committee last year, and this year’s squad can at best cash out the regular season at 22 wins. However, the 2021-2022 team earned just one Quadrant 1 victory, while this team has two with plenty of chances for more left this season.

Find my optimism foolish? Everyone was perplexed when the 17-14 Michigan Wolverines were granted an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament last year. The committee, instead of seeing a team with a .548 win percentage, saw a team from an (overrated) Big Ten conference with five Quadrant 1 wins. 

Aside from the chance to face off against top-ranked teams in the ACC tournament, the Demon Deacons will have two chances of earning Quadrant 1 wins this season if they can beat NC State (17-5, 7-4) and No. 23 Miami (17-5, 8-4) on the road. If the North Carolina Tar Heels (15-6, 7-3) can crawl their way to a top-30 spot in the NCAA’s NET Rankings from their current position at 33, Wake Forest can also claim a Quadrant 1 win on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at home.

Envisioning the Demon Deacons earning redemption for the 88-79 road loss against the Tar Heels over winter break is more than realistic. During that last matchup, in which North Carolina’s Armando Bacot dropped 21 points and snagged nine rebounds, the lead switched 20 times. Containing the top rebounder in the ACC is no easy feat, but if Wake Forest can reduce the damage from the inside and force Bacot to take the ball from further out, North Carolina can be toppled. Furthermore, a self-inflicted wound for Wake Forest during the Jan. 4 contest was the 15 turnovers they committed. The team has become more cautious with the ball as of late with six-straight games having notched under 10 turnovers.

The Miami Hurricanes have been sitting in the AP Top 25 since mid-December. Wake Forest received a vote to be included in the poll two weeks ago. One could say these achievements are incomparable — all I know is that there is a great chance that a win over Miami will still be considered a Quadrant 1 win for the matchup on Feb. 18 in Coral Gables, Fla. The reality is that this is likely the most challenging game left in the regular season for the Demon Deacons. However, Wake Forest barely trails Miami in all the statistics in which the latter exceeds. Whereas the Hurricanes are third in the conference in scoring (77.7 ppg) and first in shooting efficiency (47.8 FG%), the Demon Deacons are fourth (77.4 ppg) and third (46.8%), respectively. 

The loss against NC State this past Saturday still stings, but for this dose of optimism, I am simply going to say it’s difficult to beat a team twice. This cliché applies particularly well to the Wolfpack’s one-dimensional game plan during the second half of Saturday’s game. NC State’s D.J. Burns was responsible for 31 of the team’s 77 points versus Wake Forest. Whether or not the Demon Deacons secure the victory in Raleigh on Feb. 22, head coach Steve Forbes will not let his team suffer one man’s hook shot for another 40 minutes. This could mean showing Burns different one-on-one matchups or chancing more double-teams, but whatever the adjustment may be, it could be the key to a Quadrant 1 win.

Most scenarios short of going undefeated for the rest of the year only place Wake Forest right around the bubble for consideration of a bid to March Madness. Earning two more Quadrant 1 wins and a near-perfect record in the remaining regular season games not mentioned would set the Demon Deacons up nicely before the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. While a conference championship trophy and an automatic bid would be sweet, one or two wins could very well earn them the respect to compete in the big dance. In the meantime, Wake Forest next takes on Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Saturday, Feb. 4 at 1 p.m.