Wake Forest: 2017 March Madness

Conference: ACC (At-Large Bid)

Record: 19-13 (9-9)

Tournament Seed: 11 (South)

How they got to the Big Dance

After six straight seasons of under-.500 finishes in the ACC, it was a rejuvenating season for the Demon Deacons. Danny Manning’s squad finished 9-9 in what most believe is the toughest conference in the country, after going a combined 7-29 in the first two years of Manning’s tenure. Much of the season was characterized by near misses against the multitude of quality opponents the conference schedule threw at them. Close losses to North Carolina, Duke (twice), Notre Dame and Syracuse left Wake on the tournament fringe until a season-defining 88-81 victory over then-No. 8 Louisville in Winston-Salem on March 2 vaulted it on to the right side of the bubble. A convincing first-round victory over Boston College likely helped seal a bid, despite a second-round loss to Virginia Tech.

Why they’re a legitimate contender

This team can score, plain and simple. The Demon Deacons rank sixth in the entire country in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency rankings, scoring over 120 points per 100 possessions. They shoot the ball well, pouring in 47.2 percent of their shots from the field and 38.7 from beyond the 3-point line, including three players who shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc. A team that can score in bunches like Wake can will always be dangerous in the tournament. The Demon Deacons’ victory over Louisville clearly demonstrated why no one should want to see them in March. They used a 20-4 run in the middle of the game to turn a 11-point deficit into a 5-point lead against one of the best defensive teams in the country and went 10-for-24 on 3s overall. If they’re knocking down shots in the Tournament, they’ll be a tough out.

Why they’re not a legitimate contender

The Deacons struggle to guard, especially against good teams when they have the lead. They’re 158th in Pomeroy’s defensive rankings, sandwiched between noted defensive juggernauts North Dakota and Southern Illinois. Many of the games they’ve played against good teams this season have ended up as come-from-ahead losses and as well as they shoot the ball from deep, they’ve struggled almost as much to stop opponents from hitting 3s. They rank 231st in the country in opponent field goal percentage, allowing opposing teams to hit 35.8 percent from deep. One game that illustrates the problems Wake has had in shutting teams down this season is its Jan. 28 loss to Duke. The Demon Deacons were in front 81-71 with four minutes left, but the lead melted away down the stretch as Luke Kennard made three triples and Grayson Allen added one to lead Duke to a 85-83 win. The Blue Devils shot 45 percent from beyond the arc in the game. If Wake Forest goes cold from the field, it will struggle to stop even the lowest seeds in the tournament from making a big run.

Player to watch: F John Collins

Despite Wake Forest’s talent for hitting 3s, their best player is a big man who’s only attempted one all season. 6-foot-10 sophomore John Collins averages nearly 19 points and 10 rebounds per game, while shooting an ACC-best 62 percent from the field. In one particularly impressive stretch between Jan. 18 and March 1, he scored at least 20 points in 12 consecutive games, culminating in a 25-point performance in the win over Louisville. The 12-game run included eight double-doubles, including a Herculean 31-point, 15-rebound effort in a 99-94 loss to Duke in mid-February. The West Palm Beach, Florida native finished second in the voting for ACC Player of the Year, and earned first-team all-conference honors. Collins is able to score in myriad ways around the basket, with an already polished post game complementing a soft touch from further out. He also has the athleticism to face up and drive to the hoop when opponents try to take away the jumper. His 1.6 blocks per game aren’t too shabby on the defensive end, either.