Wake Forest has taken a clear step forward under Steve Forbes. Now it's about converting that progress into the program's first NCAA Tournament bid in more than six years.
The Demon Deacons enter their fourth season under Forbes coming off two straight winning seasons, including 25 wins in 2022. But Wake Forest has come up short of breaking through to earn that NCAA bid even while winning at least 10 Atlantic Coast Conference games in each of the past two seasons.
Wake Forest has done it with impressive use of the transfer portal, notably in bringing in back-to-back picks as Associated Press league player of the year in guards Alondes Williams (2022) and Tyree Appleby (2023). The formula is familiar this year, as the Demon Deacons chase the program's first NCAA bid since a First Four appearance under Danny Manning in 2017.
“I just think we've done a great job with meshing guys and getting guys that we thought would fit in well with our style of play,” assistant coach B.J. McKie said. "We don't necessarily look at what they averaged in points. ... We try to really do our homework to find out about that player both on and off the floor. That's been our philosophy, and it's worked.”
Captains Cameron Hildreth (12.4 points) and Andrew Carr (10.7 points, 6.0 rebounds) are back to provide experienced scorers.
Wake Forest added Central Michigan guard Kevin Miller after he had proven to be a double-figure scorer in the Mid-American Conference. The Demon Deacons also went west to bring in three transfers: guard Abramo Canka from UCLA and two from Gonzaga in guard Hunter Sallis and 7-footer Efton Reid III. Reid's status is unclear as a two-time transfer requiring an NCAA waiver to play immediately.
“The way (Forbes) coaches, it gives us a lot of freedom to be able to go out there and be comfortable and confident, and play the way that we practice,” said Carr, himself a transfer from Delaware before last season. "I'm excited for this season and for a bunch of the new guys to come in here and have big roles."
Hildreth, a 6-4 guard, has proven capable of contributing in multiple areas. He was also the team's No. 2 rebounder (5.3) last year and was second in assists (2.8) behind Appleby. He even tallied a triple-double against Hampton.
Wake Forest could also get a boost with the eventual return of another starter in Damari Monsanto from a knee injury.
The 6-foot-6 Monsanto wing averaged 13.3 points while shooting 40.5% from 3-point range, including a career-best 28 against Notre Dame in February. But he went down with a torn left patella tendon in February at North Carolina State and missed the rest of the season. McKie said Monsanto is likely sidelined until late December.
The Demon Deacons could use stronger finishes.
Wake Forest lost four of its last seven games before Selection Sunday in 2022, including a narrow loss at highly ranked Duke that might've been a resume topper good enough to push them into the field of 68. Last year, the Demon Deacons lost four of their last six games, including two of their seven losses by a two-point margin on the season.
“We get to that point where it's selection day and we don't get picked,” Hildreth said. "I feel like we're in position where we're definitely good enough to make it and we've just come up shsort.”
Wake Forest opens the season Nov. 6 against Elon, then has immediate power-conference matchups against Georgia on Nov. 10 and Utah in the first round of the Charleston Classic.
There's also home games against Florida in the ACC/SEC Challenge (Nov. 29) and Rutgers (Dec. 6) before playing the ACC opener against Virginia Tech (Dec. 30).
Marquee league games include a visit from No. 13 Miami (Jan. 6), a trip to No. 19 North Carolina (Jan. 22) and two matchups against No. 2 Duke. The Demon Deacons close at home against Clemson on March 9.
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