Court Report: Wake Forest and coach Steve Forbes have been overcoming so much more than fans on the floor



Two years ago, I led the Court Report on a story about Steve Forbes revitalizing Wake Forest and building the best Demon Deacons team in more than a decade. 

That team finished 25-10 and missed the NCAA Tournament. 

So, here we are again. 

Only this year’s group unquestionably rates even better. And yet, 19 days out from Selection Sunday, the NCAA Tournament is far from a guarantee for the Deacs. There’s a lot going on here. Even more than you realize. Forbes made headlines recently for being his typical outspoken self, sending criticism Joe Lunardi’s way for previous comments on the ACC’s talent. He also called out a media outlet over the weekend for misquoting him

Then, there was Saturday. Wake Forest’s first sellout in seven years, its 83-79 win over then-No. 8 Duke — the school’s most meaningful conquest in a long time — was instantly overshadowed by a dangerous court-storm. I’m not here to talk about that, though. You can find opinions and would-be solutions in pretty much every crevice of the American sports internet in the past 72 hours. 

Still, there’s a lot going on in Winston-Salem. Even more than what I’ve started with. A lot more. Some of it good, some of it not. 

This is a Deacs team that’s 18-9, the last team in the field for now, yet is up to No. 19 at KenPom.com. Its metrics are semi-contradictory. Its star, Hunter Sallis, is a transfer from Gonzaga who went from McDonald’s All-American to inconsistent bit player the past two seasons. Now? In Sallis’ first season at Wake he’s turned into one of the best players in the ACC, averaging 18.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and shooting 43.5% from beyond the arc. 

Forbes has been a portal magician, previously molding guys like Alondes Williams (2021-22 ACC POY), Jake LaRavia (shocking first round NBA Draft pick) and Tyree Appleby (2022-23 First Team All-ACC) and bringing out the best in them. And remember Bobi Klintman? Another melodrama. The Swede was a 2023 one-and-doner who decided to leave well ahead of schedule. Forbes was bewildered and vocal about that last year, too. Klintman took advice from his NIL agent and is currently playing in Australia, potentially playing himself into being a 2024 first round pick.

In spite of this, and a lot more, Forbes has made it work. 

“This is a basketball community,” he told CBS Sports. “They love basketball. I knew that coming here and I just needed somebody to reignite the spark a little bit.” 

And yet, it’s still a perpetual bubble team. Remember, there was also eligibility consternation regarding two-time transfer Efton Reid, who got cleared seven games into the season. It remains to be seen how seriously the selection committee will consider how different Wake Forest is with Reid vs. weighing its 4-3 record without him. 

“Most of the credit goes to the players,” Forbes said. “We have not only really good players, but really good people. They represent what this institution stands for. That’s books and basketball. They do really well on and off the court.”

Now Forbes is guiding what he says is his best overall team he’s ever coached — and that includes the 30-win team at East Tennessee State in 2020 that never got a chance to play in the NCAAs due to COVID. 

Again, there’s a lot here, and we haven’t even gotten to the real stuff. You see, everything happening with Wake Forest and its NCAA chances, its court-storming controversy, Forbes standing up for his team, battles with the NCAA over player eligibility — all of it’s secondary to what’s going on with Forbes’ family. In August, their lives were sideswiped when Forbes’ wife, Johnetta, suffered a stroke while Forbes was working overseas. 

“Get that phone call like that August 8, your life changes real fast,” Forbes said. “It’ll wake your ass right up.” 

Johnetta’s recovery story was beautifully detailed in January, here, by Seth Davis. But for as powerful and inspiring as the story is, Forbes is also human. He didn’t gain superhero powers once his life was turned upside down. He’s powering through this season, and to hear him talk, it’s almost like he’s sometimes doing it in a haze. 

“It’s been a hard year,” Forbes told CBS Sports. “There’s a lot more going on sometimes than meets the eye. And I’m not making excuses. I haven’t.”

And he won’t. It’s remarkable. How many programs could be in position to make the NCAAs, to rate as a top-25 team, after not having their head coach for essentially 42 days in the preseason? That’s what Wake Forest is going through.

“There’s been years in the past, if this would have happened with me and my wife, I don’t know what I would’ve done because I think my team might have imploded,” Forbes said.  “A lot of that credit has to go to my staff and my players. I have an unbelievable staff that takes care of business when I can’t be there. And the players are not high-maintenance. They take care of their business.” 

Forbes has spent more time away from his team this season than probably any other head coach. Johnetta cannot be alone at home, so a rotating cast of people — the Forbes’ adult children and other friends and family members — cycle in to be with her when Forbes has to be in the office, running a practice, away for games and more. She’s still going through physical therapy twice a week. She can walk with a cane, and Forbes was glowing about her recovery.

It’s been a huge improvement since August. Back then, Forbes told me he wondered if he was going to have to step away for the season. 

“It was a hellacious first couple of weeks. I didn’t know if I could do it,” Forbes followed up with on Sunday night. 

He’s had to be a caregiver, run a major college basketball program and much more.

Yes, there’s still more. 

“My mom’s in the hospital right now,” Forbes said. 

His mother, Linda, a 76-year-old widow of five years, lives alone in Iowa. Forbes found out when his brother called him 10 days ago, after Wake lost at Virginia. 

“She went in there during the Virginia game,” he said. “I’m the oldest, she’s not in good health. I can’t go home. There’s a lot more going on sometimes than what meets the eye. And I’m not making excuses. I’m just telling you that there’s been some days I woke up, and I told my wife, I’m built for this. We’re gonna do this, we’re gonna get you better, and we have, but I can’t lie and say that every day I felt that way.”

Complaining? None of that from Forbes. Just talking through this. He’s human. He’s allowed to feel this way. Johnetta has ups and downs. She walks with a cane but it isn’t good enough for her. She wants to be better, faster. Forbes is so inspired by her. She doesn’t want to sit in the suite level for home games, as she did on Saturday, but she’s at the games. Wake Forest is yet to lose at home. That hasn’t happened this deep into a season in 19 years.

“It’s just an emotional roller coaster,” he said.

And that’s before you get to the basketball and game prep and watching tape and a court-storm that dominated the news cycle for three days now and the pressures of trying to get a program to just its second NCAA Tournament in a decade and a half.

I told you: It’s a lot. 

Think about when you watch Wake Forest play on the road Tuesday night against Notre Dame. Think about a team and a program that, more than anything, is doing it to make life that much better for Steve and Johnetta Forbes. 

Make yourself a smarter college hoops fan this March

It’s time for the final installment of Analytics Month here at the Court Report. We previously spotlighted EvanMiya.com, then gave some shine for CBB Analytics before, last week, writing on why nerd god Ken Pomeroy deserves inclusion into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. I’m using this last quarter to divulge quick dossiers on many data folks and spread the love. They are all good follows and bring distinct analytical flavor that enhances college basketball’s ever-moving conversations. If you want to bulk up your stats knowledge and have access to more information during the best month of the year, here’s a strong squadron of stat savants to start following ASAP.

Andrew Weatherman. A quick riser in the college hoops data world. Weatherman is proficient in a statistical computing and graphics program known as “R.” With R, Weatherman often drops goodies — from tiering impact transfers to historic OT winning streaks to easy-to-digest quad-by-quad breakdowns of top teams. I also enjoyed this look at Caitlin Clark’s career. Her most common game performance over four seasons? Thirty-plus points and between 7-9 assists. That’s incredible.

Beyond all this, Weatherman also stepped into save The Jerome. For the uninitiated, that’s the pick ’em every March in which CBB fans and media alike try to predict the tournament champs in every conference. After the original purveyors of The Jerome announced recently that their two-decade reign would have to come to an end, Weatherman stepped in and offered to code and build it a new home. Onions!

JG Trends. Over the past five seasons, Jack Gilles has been consistently putting out data viz content that puts into pictures, graphs and images a lot of what’s happening on the court but you might not realize. Gilles will sometimes focus on a single game that just happened, while other times scanning across an entire season’s worth of info. Here’s an easy-to-understand data set on how much Zach Edey impact’s Purdue’s ball-screen D.

Haslametrics. In a world of Pomeroys and Torviks and Sagarins, of BPIs and KPIs, of NET rankings and Massey Composites, Erik Haslam has humbly gone about his business of building out a one-of-a-kind rankings system that can proudly sit at a table with any aforementioned metric. What’s more, Haslam is appreciated in this household for being a staunch anti-expansionist when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Hear, hear, Haslam! The man is also a frontiersman of the #AnalyticallyFinal movement. Send it to your friends and play along at home. 

Jordan Sperber. With more than 109,000 YouTube subscribers, Sperber (who has a background in college coaching) is the preeminent independent game-tape analyst in the space. Sperber doesn’t flood the zone with daily or even weekly uploads. Because of that, his user base consumes his content with enthusiasm and great appreciation when he does take the time and care to, say, produce a 16:30 watch on why Houston’s defense ranks among the best in recent memory. If you’re looking for more frequent insight, of course he has a newsletter under his Hoop Vision branding.

Hoop-Math. If a low-fi UX is your preferred speed, Hoop-Math is a terrific product that I and some other college hoops media use with regularity. Founded by Jeff Haley in 2011, Hoop-Math offers up basic but fundamentally important team- and player-specific statistics and is all derived by culling publicly available play-by-play data. Which team is the best at effective field goal percentage but NOT counting any transition points? Hoop-Math gives you that answer. (It’s Indiana State.) Which team blocks the highest percentage of 2-point shots? Houston. How many put-back baskets has UConn made this season, and what’s the breakdown per player? Hoop-Math has that data. 

Dadgumboxscores. Yessur, that’s an Ol’ Royism. This account gives out stats with a frequent tinge of Carolina Blue. Another data viz specialist in R, Chris Gallo runs the Bless Your Chart Substack as well. He’s been handing out some goodies by the week all season long. His research extends well beyond UNC, though. To wit:

cobra.stats. The “cobra” stands for Connor Bradley, who is the man behind this account. It’s very Purdue-focused, but not always. Either way, having a lot of Purdue data at the ready is going to be necessary in this most crucial of Marches for the Boilermakers. Here’s a great stat idea/execution. “The Revengers” is a good tag line, too.

ShotQuality. A not-so-small shop anymore. Among other selling points, ShotQuality specializes in the what-if. Specifically, it evaluates how much a team deviates from its expected outcome depending on the types of shots it takes in a given game, and thus, produces a ShotQuality score that is different from the actual finale score. (Admittedly, sometimes the ShotQuality scores drive me bonkers because I am seeking more context.) However, this detailed explanation gives insight into how the data is produced. The nature of SQ also will create heartache for many a fan on the wrong end of a result, but it’s a sandbox to play in, absolutely.

That’s enough to get you started, but believe me, there are more. One of the wonderful things about college basketball’s online community is how fruitfully it’s blooming with intelligent and eager new voices who make following and talking about the sport even more fun.

At least 4 preseason Top 25 teams likely to miss NCAAs

Been holding this one for two months, but time to take the cover off. See, us college hoops prognosticators try our best, but we’re all doomed to misfire here and there. Let’s take a look at one example. The preseason AP Top 25 has been pretty darn accurate, broadly speaking, over the decades. But it’s bound to go phut. In fact, every year for the past decade-plus, the sport has witnessed many teams fail to make March Madness after appearing in the preseason AP poll. North Carolina, infamously, is the only one to do it after being the first No. 1. 

Since 2011 — and not accounting for the 2019-20 season that did not have an NCAA Tournament — an average of 4.1 teams ranked in the preseason have fallen short of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. 

This year seems a near-lock to minimally hit four teams. Candidates include 17-11 Michigan State (No. 4 in preseason), 22-6 Gonzaga (11), 15-14 Miami (13), 14-13 Arkansas (14), 15-12 Texas A&M (15), 11-16 USC (21) and 15-12 Villanova (22). A few might win enough to escape the shame, but I’m setting the over/under at 5.5 preseason Top 25 teams to miss March Madness. (I’d be stunned if it was under five.) With transfer numbers unlikely to significantly decrease, it makes preseason prognostications even more difficult due to the unpredictable nature of hodgepodge roster building. That in mind, this trend will likely continue every year for the foreseeable future.

If anything, it’s going to become more difficult to accurately forecast the best teams every October. But at least we still have the top of the Week 6 AP poll to generally indicate which team will win the national title.

10 Things I Think I Think

On Monday, legendary NFL writer Peter King announced his retirement, and with that, his final spectacular Monday morning NFL notebook. I have read King’s work going back two-plus decades; as you can tell, his penchant for garrulous word count has served as an inspiration in these parts. The Court Report, like basically almost every other notes-type column in any sports publication in the past 25 years, owes a debt to King’s signature, long-winded, encyclopedic megacolumn. In honor of PK, I am paying homage to his “10 Things I Think I Think” and wrapping this week’s CR with his conceit.

1. I think Connecticut, Houston and Purdue are as close as can be for No. 1 seed locks without being lock-locks — and that they’re fated to all be on the top line anyway. What’s fun in that: We could have an awesome push for the No. 1 overall in the next 19 days. I also think the race for the fourth No. 1 isn’t going to be as deep as I initially hoped. At this point, I think there are eight teams competing for one spot: UNC, Arizona, Tennessee, Marquette, Kansas, Iowa State, Alabama and Duke. But I think ISU, Bama and Duke have to win out to have a shot and I don’t believe those three are equipped to do that. I also wonder if Marquette has to win out. Ultimately, it seems like one of UNC, Arizona, Tennessee and Kansas will spar for the 1-seed in the West. 

2. I think I’m done with court-storming discourse for a long time, and I think a lot of college basketball fans (even if they are against it entirely) agree with me. I’ve talked about it on Eye on College Basketball almost annually for 12-plus years. I also think the idea that Alabama AD Greg Byrne (among others) floated about reversing a game decision to a forfeit for the home is one of the dumber suggestions you’ll see. First off, the schools — not the conferences — vote on these issues. And no school is going to vote in favor of flipping a win to a loss because of behavior by non-players and coaches. So we can stop with that insanity. 

3. I think first-year USF coach Amir Abdur-Rahim getting South Florida to its first regular-season conference championship and its first Top 25 ranking — in the same week — in its 52-year history and riding a school-record 13-game winning streak puts him near the top of the national coach of the year list. The 21-5 Bulls are a true shock of the sport, though despite a really good record, their NCAA Tournament profile remains lacking due to bad home losses early to Central Michigan and Maine. If USF can get to the AAC Tournament championship game with a 25-6 record, I’ll be interested and open to the idea that it’s an at-large candidate. 

4. I think the smoke around Greg McDermott’s future at Creighton is real and won’t be settled in the next week-plus, if at all before the end of the season. As has been previously reported, McDermott, 59, is looking for a pay bump and a contract that lets him retire at Creighton. If that can’t be arranged to his liking, then yeah, the time to move is probably this year. He’s also on Ohio State’s radar — and could be a target for other eventual openings. I also think McDermott fairly rates as a top-20ish coach in the sport at this point in his career. Athletic director Marcus Blossom has a lot of pressure to get this done.

5. I think Monday’s news regarding the MAC voting to bring on UMass for all sports is the latest bummer in conference realignment. The Atlantic 10 is losing one of its signature schools, albeit a men’s hoops program that hasn’t been a factor for way too long. I get why UMass is choosing this path, but it’s also the latest example of how chasing football money sands away at basketball’s significance. That stinks. It’s another piece of evidence, too, that proves moving football into its own silo for conference affiliation would be better for most involved, but the school presidents and commissioners of these leagues aren’t bold enough to do it. 

6. I think the Big East will wind up getting five teams into the NCAA Tournament, but I’m too twisted to confidently predict to you which two will get in after UConn, Marquette and Creighton. Go look at the remaining schedules for Seton Hall, Butler and Providence. (St. John’s, you’re still two wins away from being in this convo.) It seems inevitable that at least one Big East team is going to Dayton, but maybe it will be two. I think the Big East Tournament is going to produce the most entertaining conference bracket of them all in 2024.

7. I think Alabama’s 117-95 loss at then-No. 17 Kentucky on Saturday was concerning enough defensively that it will prevent me from considering the Crimson Tide as a Final Four team. On offense, Nate Oats’ group is a scorcher; its 91.1 ppg is the highest clip by major-conference team since 1998-99 Duke (91.8), but on defense it’s a sieve. Alabama ranks 97th in adjusted defensive efficiency at KenPom. And beyond that, Alabama’s lost eight times — and five of those have been double-digit and/or blowout losses. Sure, Bama can drop 100, but I can’t count this among the 12-or-so most reliable teams out there. The same goes for Kansas if Kevin McCullar Jr. isn’t able to return (bone bruise in knee).

8. I think FAU is going to be impossible to predict in the NCAA Tournament. The Owls probably can be a No. 7 seed at best and a No. 11 at worst, and are capable of losing to anyone or winning three games. At 21-7 and now out of the rankings, they haven’t met preseason expectations. But if you look at six of their seven losses, they’ve all been competitive and/or decided by four points or fewer. The lone exception is the 98-89 defeat to Illinois, and that game was closer than the score indicates. If No. 9 seed FAU played 1-seed UNC … well that would be extremely fascinating and tempting.

9. I think the NCAA Tournament men’s basketball selection committee got better/smarter with the announced additions of WAC commissioner Brian Thornton and Oklahoma State athletic director Chad Wieberg. Both will start their five-year terms in September and both are definitely qualified for the assignment. I also think the selection committee needs to move out of the era of only allowing athletic directors and conference commissioners to sit on its board. Diversify already. The CFP, for all of its faults, has lapped the NCAA on this for a decade. 

10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:

a. Old Dominion’s Jeff Jones retired on Monday. I’m wishing him the best of health. He’s a long-respected coach who won more than 500 games and didn’t seek attention, even after being a pretty damn good point guard at Virginia. That ODU job is a good one in its new Sun Belt digs, and in talking to sources on Monday, it sounds like it’ll be a competitive race with some sleeper candidates.

b. Speaking of the Sun Belt, have you checked the top of that league recently? James Madison is 26-3, but all three losses have come in league play and the Dukes are a game behind App State (24-5, 14-2), which owns a sweep of JMU and also beat Auburn. if they meet in the title game and JMU loses a third time … a four-loss Duke team missing the NCAAs would tie the record for fewest losses without an at-large bid. 

c. RJ Davis’ 42-point outing vs. Miami was the kind of legendary performance that will rightfully put him — alongside teammate Armando Bacot — in the upper echelon of all-time Tar Heel greats. Right now, he’s my No. 2 for NPOY year behind Zach Edey. His 42 of UNC’s 75 was, per UNC ace SID Steve Kirschner, “the first time a Tar Heel outscored the rest of the team since 1/29/1983, when Michael Jordan scored a career-high 39 of UNC’s 72 points over Georgia Tech in Greensboro.” 😳🔥

d. TCU’s lackluster home loss to Baylor on Monday night is going to be a problem. The 19-9 Horned Frogs have one of the worst non-con schedules of any high-major and now they have two road games upcoming. The NCAA Tournament is not guaranteed here and a couple of Big 12 teams that loaded up on low-major fodder in November and December are going to miss the Big Dance because of it.

e. Thankfully/finally, Mississippi Valley State finally won its first game of the season on Monday night, beating Prairie View A&M 57-51 to get to 1-27. In winning, we dodged having the 10th winless team in men’s D-I history (COVID-season not included). The last time it happened was Grambling State in 2012-13. 

f. Rick Pitino had to bribe a tailor to work overtime on Saturday to get his white suit in order for Sunday’s noon tip against Creighton. My guess on how much Pitino gave the man: $1,000. Definitely didn’t use Venmo.

g. I think I’ll use “g” for Guster, which on Monday announced its tracklist for its forthcoming album. If you’re curious, yes, the Guster is for L❤️vers sticker is on my lapper and ready for the tournament. In fact, I hope to catch the band’s album release show in Boston on March 30 — shortly after wrapping up work covering whatever team makes the Final Four that night at TD Garden. Here’s the track list.

h. Rob Dillingham should start for Kentucky. The freshman leads D-I in points (379) and assists (96) off the bench this season. He needs four more points to pass Devin Booker for most points off the bench by a Kentucky player in the past 25-plus years. This is gonna become even more of a Thing in March, just watch.

i. With UMass set to leave the Atlantic 10, I would expect Charleston to be the top candidate to replace the Minutemen and leave the CAA before the end of the year … but I would hold off on the idea that the league absolutely will choose to stay at 15 teams.

j. The D-III men’s basketball tournament bracket was released on Monday, and damn if this didn’t seriously stoke my March-loving soul. I think Gary Parrish and I are going to be maniacs and pick this entire bracket without knowing a single thing about any of these teams on Friday’s Eye on College Basketball. 

k. I don’t think — I know — that a generation of sportswriters are better for having known and/or read Peter King. I’ve never met the man but his influence transcends sports and had a big impact on my development as a reporter. You’re reading this in part because of him. If you were at all in touch with sports media on Monday, King’s sparkling reputation and long-established streak of generosity reverberated across the country. In addition to being an all-time NFL scribe, he’s even more importantly remembered for being one of the most helpful and inclusive writers ever, a distinct mark in a competitive field. If you want to know why the role of the media is so crucial in connecting fans to the game, there is no better person I can think of in any sport than the way Peter King did it over the past 40 years. 





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