WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Take that, Joe Lunardi.

Whether ESPN’s chronically over-hyped bracket guesser wants to admit it yet or not, there’s no more discussion necessary when it comes to Wake Forest’s postseason resume.

The Deacons are an NCAA Tournament team.

Period. Full stop.

And they’re not even on the bubble.

The metrics say so. Wake came into the game at No. 27 in the NCAA’s NET rankings and No. 21 by KenPom. Those numbers are even stronger when you consider that 3 of the Deacons’ 9 losses came during the 1st 7 games before rim protector Efton Reid was granted his transfer waiver.

The eye test says so, too.

All that’s left after Saturday’s monumental 83-79 victory against No. 8 Duke at a sold-out Joel Coliseum is for the internet influencers among us to finally admit it.

Steve Forbes’ team showed all the qualities necessary to earn its way into the field of 68 – and stick around for more than just 1 game – while improving its record to 18-9 (10-6 ACC) and extending their home winning streak to 15.

There was elite individual talent in the person of junior guard Hunter Sallis, who scored 29 points on 11-of-13 shooting in 39 standout minutes. Some savvy coaching in the adjustment Forbes made to get forward Andrew Carr, who scored all but 2 of his 18 points after halftime more involved offensive over the final 20 minutes.

There was the resilience to battle from behind late in the game against an opponent with a history of winning in environments as emotionally charged as this one was. And the poise to make winning plays when the game was on the line.

Twelve days after advocating for the Deacons and the ACC after beating them in a similarly close, hard-fought game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke coach Jon Scheyer was even more convinced than ever about Wake’s postseason credentials.

“I’m not spending all my time worrying about the Tournament, Bracketology and all that,” Scheyer said. “But I do know that this win shouldn’t have validated them being in the tournament. You’re telling me that if we won by 2, if we bang in a 3 to win, all of a sudden they’re not a Tournament team? I think we need to have some common sense.”

That’s been in short supply among those handicapping the field on a weekly basis. Most have only 4 ACC teams in their current brackets (Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia) and have had as few as 2 at certain points this season.

Despite its strong metrics, Wake started the day as a popular selection in the “First 4 out category.”

There are any number of reasons why these Deacons seem so easy to dismiss by so many outside the ACC’s traditional footprint.

They’ve been down so long, having posted only 2 winning records and 1 NCAA appearance in the 10 seasons before Forbes took over in 2020. And that they were left out of the field despite winning 23 regular season games 2 seasons ago.

It could also be a byproduct of the excessive chest pounding the ACC did back in the day when it really was the best, deepest conference in college basketball.

By a wide margin.

Of course, when all else fails, there’s always the time-tested “Little Wake Forest” excuse. It’s the one that makes the Deacons hard to take seriously because they represent the nation’s smallest power conference school.

Not that the size of a school should or actually does factor into determining a team’s tournament-worthiness.

Forbes made that and numerous other things abundantly clear during an entertaining 5-plus minute postgame monologue in which he touched on NET, the disrespect being shown to the ACC and some well-publicized comments he made about Bracketology earlier in the week.

“I love the ACC and I’m going to stick up for it. That’s just the way it’s going to be while I’m here.”

One thing Forbes didn’t do was take the opportunity and take “dog” Lunardi.

That was a prudent thing to do. At least for the time being.

With 4 regular season games and the ACC Tournament still to play, there are too many opportunities remaining for the naysayers come right back with an “I told you so” of their own should the Deacons stumble.

Of course, as Carr noted, there is 1 way he and his teammates can prevent that from happening.

“We’ve always been in a position of controlling our own destiny,” he said. “If we keep winning we don’t have to worry about that. It’s 1 game at a time and keep winning.”

They did that in a big way on Saturday. On a big stage.

It may have been just 1 win in a long season. But between the opponent, the performance, the postseason implications and the atmosphere provided by the school-record, court-storming crowd, there was clearly something different about this victory.

“I think it sends a message that ‘here we are. We’re not going anywhere,'” Forbes said afterward. “This isn’t no fluke. … That’s where we’re at and we have to continue on that path. But I think it sends a message.”

One that might even be loud enough to catch Joe Lunardi’s attention.