A couple of Saturdays ago at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Wake Forest gave Duke all it could handle before eventually falling by five points in an exciting ACC shootout. The Demon Deacons followed that disappointment up with a comeback home victory over Pittsburgh, which improved their record to 16-12 overall and 7-9 in the ACC. Going into tonight’s home game against Louisville, Danny Manning‘s third team in Winston-Salem sits among Jerry Palm’s First Four In and Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out. The Deacs pass the eye test with an emerging star in sophomore big man John Collins and a host of additional young players playing beyond their years, but their resume still contains one glaring vacancy that a win over the Cardinals would undoubtedly resolve. With a dismal mark of 0-8 against the RPI top 25, Wake Forest’s best win came over Miami (FL) in mid-January and there are few remaining opportunities to notch an attention-grabbing signature win.
For a program that has not sniffed meaningful postseason basketball since 2010, Manning acutely diagnosed his team’s mental hurdle after the loss at Duke: “We have to continue. We have to find a way. There are no close victories. There are no close feel-goods. There’s none of that. We have to find a way to get it done for the rest of our conference games.” If Wake Forest is to find that elusive quality win tonight against Louisville, it will assuredly be on the merits of an offense that ranks 11th nationally, per KenPom. The Demon Deacons’ defense (131st nationally) is still a work in progress, but with Collins quickly proving to be the ACC’s most talented big man and a number of capable shooters spotting up around him, a defense that bends but doesn’t break may be all they need.