Monday, February 15, 2010

Deacs close to wrapping up NCAA bid

Wake Forest's win Saturday over Georgia Tech did more than avenge a loss from earlier in the season.

The Deacons (18-5, 8-3 ACC) are close to joining Duke on the list of ACC teams that have wrapped up NCAA Tournament bids in what's been a redemptive season for coach Dino Gaudio.

Last March, Gaudio's coaching was questioned after Cleveland State's shocking upset eliminated an extremely talented Wake Forest team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. After losing guard Jeff Teague and forward James Johnson early to the NBA draft, Wake Forest was expected to fall back into the middle of the ACC standings.

The media picked Wake Forest sixth in the ACC preseason poll. Thanks to strong seasons by Al-Farouq Aminu (16.5 ppg, 10.9 rpg) and Ish Smith (13.0 ppg, 6.1 apg), though, the Deacons are in second place behind Duke.

"We have some pretty driven guys and they are starting to pull this team with them," Gaudio said during Monday's ACC coaches teleconference.

Wins over Gonzaga and Xavier outside the ACC also have helped Wake Forest achieve an RPI rating that puts the Deacons in good shape to gain a high seed if it keeps winning. Wake Forest is No. 11 in the RPI, according to

The Deacons' schedule still presents challenges. On Tuesday they visit Virginia Tech, which hasn't lost at home yet this season. Three of Wake Forest's final five games are on the road.

But games at N.C. State on Feb. 20 and at home against North Carolina on Feb. 27 also give the Deacons good chances to add to their conference wins total in the closing weeks of the season.

And Gaudio hopes the lessons learned from last season's early NCAA exit will pay dividends for his players if they can get to the tournament again.

"It was our first experience in the NCAA Tournament with a young team," Gaudio said. "We did not play well. I'd be remiss if I said we did. But the Cleveland State team, as we've now learned, was a very talented team. . . .It wasn't like we lost to St. Rita's Church here that I go to here in Winston-Salem. We later found out that they had two pros on that team. I hope the experiences that we went through last year lend itself well for a stretch run for us."

Ken Tysiac