Wake Forest’s path to the Big Dance

Selection Sunday, on Mar. 12, is a little more than two weeks away and the Wake Forest basketball team remains firmly on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Deacs chances of making the tournament. If you are interested in understanding what criteria the NCAA committee uses to pick between teams, then I encourage you to read the article on the Old Gold & Black’s website. With only a few regular season games and the ACC tournament remaining on the Deacs schedule, I want to reevaluate the team’s current resume and project what Wake Forest needs to do to secure an at-large bid in the 68 team field.

Wake Forest’s Current Resume:

Wake Forest is 16-12 overall and 7-9 in the ACC, which continues to be the deepest league in the country. The computer rankings have the Deacs 40th in the RPI, 31st in Ken Pom and 39th in the Sagaring ratings. The Deacons have the 15th ranking strength of schedule and zero losses against sub-100 RPI teams. The John Collins led team’s best wins are Miami (37th RPI), at Charleston (65th RPI) and Georgia Tech (75th RPI). The only three loses against RPI sub-50 teams are at Syracuse (83rd RPI) and both contests against Clemson (60th RPI).

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The Deacs continue to boast impressive computer analytics and lack a “bad loss.” Yet, the team has squandered opportunities to add a necessary high-profile win. A win against either Clemson or Duke would have been helpful road victories, especially the game against the resurgent Blue Devils. Thus, Wake Forest has a disappointing 1-10 against RPI top-50 competition.

Joe Lunardi of ESPN and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports both have the Deacons as one of the first four teams out of the field. Other ACC teams, including Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Pittsburgh also appear to be on the bubble. In general, the bubble is considered to be historically weak this year, opening the door for the Deacs to maneuver their way into March Madness.

What do the Deacons need to do the rest of the season?

The Deacons only have three games and the ACC tournament to enhance their resume. The Pittsburgh game is an absolute must-win with a loss being close to a fatal blow to any NCAA Tournament aspirations. Assuming the Deacs beat the Panthers, the team will then get a week off before a tilt against top-five RPI Louisville.

The best opportunity for the Deacs to pick-up a quality win is to beat Louisville Wednesday at the Coliseum. The Deacs will have a week off to prepare for Rick Pitino’s vaunted match-up zone defense. The Cardinals still have a game Saturday Feb. 25 against Syracuse and will have much less time to game plan, which means advantage Deacs. Playing their best basketball of the season, Louisville will be tough to defeat, but if the Deacs can pull-off the upset on Senior Night, then Wake’s resume is vastly improved.

The last game is at Virginia Tech the Saturday following the contest against Louisville. Virginia Tech is 35th in the RPI and a likely NCAA Tournament team. The Hokies will be without Chris Clarke, one of the team’s best players, who suffered a torn ACL earlier in February. A win in Blacksburg would be a quality road victory, but still would not be as impressive as a win against Louisville.

The results of these regular season games only matter if the Deacs do not win the ACC tournament. Albeit a monumental task considering the team’s current standing in the ACC, the Deacs can take all the drama out of Selection Sunday by bringing home the ACC trophy. In the more likely scenario where Wake Forest does not win the conference tournament, the Deacons will need to win games against fellow bubble teams. There will be more chances for a signature wins in the Barclay’s Center, which will be advantageous, particularly if the team loses to Louisville.

Overall, victories against Pittsburgh and Louisville with a decent performance in the conference tournament might be good enough for Wake Forest to secure a ticket to the Big Dance. If the Deacs fail to beat Louisville, than Danny Manning will need to find a way to advance farther into ACC tournament. As Selection Sunday looms, the Demon Deacons must obtain a marquee victory to propel them back into March Madness or the seven-year tournament drought will persist.

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