The ups and downs of Wake Forest basketball were plentiful last year, but the ACC schedule served as a breaking point for the Demon Deacons after some non-conference upsets. This year, Danny Manning is hoping to follow a similar script, only rewritten after the new year.Wake faces the likes of Richmond and LSU yet again while Xavier, Northwestern and possibly Villanova round out a treacherous non-conference slate. If all goes well, Wake could be staring at a strong start with three beatable opponents to start off with in the ACC.That’s about it for the beatable teams, however, as Wake then stares down a six-game slate to close out January against an ACC gauntlet. Following the schedule release on Monday, here’s a look at five things to know for Wake Forest.TOUGHEST STRETCH: The aforementioned January death march has the possibility of tilting Wake’s season completely on its side. Over a 20-day stretch between Jan. 8 and 28, the Deacs will square off with Virginia, North Carolina, Miami, NC State, Syracuse and Duke. Five of those teams made the Sweet 16 last year and the Wolfpack feature a much more talented roster than in years past. Wake has a chance to start the conference schedule with two to three wins, but getting much more than that in January looks nearly impossible.MOST INTRIGUING NON-CONFERENCE GAME: Much like its trip to Hawaii last season for an early season tournament, Wake’s quick trip down to Charleston will tell a lot about where this team stands. After beginning against UTEP, the next likely opponent will be Villanova. Yeah, that Villanova, the one that just won the national championship over UNC. Jay Wright lost a few great players, but still has a talented core. Going against the Wildcats in Charleston will easily be the most intriguing game before the ACC schedule.FAVORABLE PAIRINGS: Wake finished second from the bottom in the ACC standings last year with just two conference wins. The only reason the Deacs didn’t finish at the bottom was thanks to a disastrously bad Boston College team that went 0-18 in conference. This year, the two teams will face off twice with Wake doing the same against Clemson. The Tigers finished in the middle of the pack last year with a 10-8 record. In order for Wake to make any noise inside the conference, these are must-wins for this Deacs team.IN-STATE PAIRINGS: On the other side of the pairings stand Duke and NC State, two teams with high aspirations heading into the season. For Duke, the chances of a second national title in three years are very real. Meanwhile, NC State is being hyped up after getting commitments from top prospects like Dennis Smith and Omer Yurtseven to help lead the way this year. With one contest against each team in January and February, making a splash in the ACC will rely on how Wake fares against the in-state opponents.THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME: Thanks to facing Duke, State and Clemson for six ACC games, the Deacs will remain close to home for much of the season. Apart from a trip to Evanston, Ill. to face Northwestern in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and Cincinnati against Xavier, Wake rarely exits the region during its non-conference slate. The entire month of February includes one trip to Notre Dame along with three home games and matchups against Duke and Clemson. That sets up nicely for a team that needs every bit of help it can get to climb up the ACC ladder.
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