Lizzie Brown - Wake Forest Media Relations

Cautious optimism as non-conference slate come to climax

The Deacs wrap up non-conference play Thursday against LSU, but it's their results against ACC competition that will determine the season.

Cautious optimism.

An applicable phrase right now as you evaluate this year’s Wake Forest basketball team.

The reason is simple. Look at what happened last season.

There were signs of concern, but at this point a year ago it was easy to look past those indicators with all that was going well.

Sure, the Deacs collapsed in the second half at home against a talented Xavier team, giving away a 15-point halftime lead, but as the non-conference slate wrapped up Wake was sitting at 9-3 with wins against a Ben Simmons-led LSU squad on the road as well as Maui Classic victories over bluebloods Indiana and UCLA.

Even the most pessimistic Wake fan agreed the team would be competing for a NIT bid at worst.

Then the bottom fell out, as the Deacs came apart at the seams and dropped 15 of their last 16 en route to a 2-16 ACC record.

But this is a different season, and there is reason for optimism — even if it’s of the cautious variety.

The Deacs are young, but clearly more talented — eight of their 13 players are freshmen or sophomores, and nearly the entire group is expected to return next season (on paper, they lose just Austin Arians and Trent Van Horn).

Wake showed again last night in a 69-65 loss at No. 17 Xavier why there’s reason for hope, but also showed down the stretch that there’s still reason for concern.  

“In light of what this game means for both teams being the Skip Prosser Classic, it was fitting the intensity that both teams played with,” Wake coach Danny Manning said. “I thought Xavier made more plays down the stretch than us. We put ourselves in a position to win the game, but we weren’t able to execute down the stretch.”

“For us, we still have a ways to go. We’re a work in progress. We have to continue to work and get better.”

The Deacs shot 0-for-12 from behind the arc in the second half and still had a chance to knock off a ranked opponent on the road — that’s the good news.

The bad news is that they failed to close, but that’s where we’ll see down the stretch if Manning’s aggressive non-conference scheduling works to the Deacs favor as conference play begins.

Because the Deacs played a road game against the Cougars in the Charleston Classic, Wake ended up playing five true road games during the non-conference slate.

The rest of the ACC? Just 16 combined road games, an average of 1.14 true road games per team. Also, six of those were a part of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. 

Let’s just say, most teams in the conference aren’t really eager to play in other team’s gyms. Boston College, Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame NEVER played a true road game, though they did engage in some neutral-site clashes along the way. Six other ACC teams played just one true road game.

The game Saturday night at Xavier ended a stretch of four road games out of five contest for the Deacs, with wins at Richmond and UNCG, and defeats at Northwestern and Xavier.

All four of those games were competitive in the final minutes. Will those experiences make a difference as the Deacs begin to tackle ACC play? We’ll find out soon.

We’re just 10 short days away from conference play starting. . . on the road, against Florida State.

There’s reason for optimism, albeit cautious optimism.


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