CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The ACC finished the NCAA Tournament with the best conference winning percentage (73.1%) while sending four teams to the Elite Eight and two teams to the Final Four.
None of that makes Wake Forest coach Danny Manning feel any better about the way the Deacs finished last season.
Here’s part two of his Q&A with the media at ACC Operation Basketball Wednesday.
On rebuilding the program
Manning: “You look at the immediate wins and losses. Those are things that factor in, but when you take over a program it’s a process. You take over a program for one of two reasons: either the coach before you had a lot of success and left, or maybe not as much success and left. For us, we feel really good about where we’re at. This is the first team we’ve put on the court where the majority of guys have been recruited for this system and this style of play. I think that’s important. We’re young. Eight of our 13 guys are freshmen and sophomores. We’re going to have this group for the next two years, and add our next freshmen class. We’re excited about the direction we’re headed. We all know the type of league we play in. There’s no nights off, and it’s really tough on young players. We feel like we’re moving in the right direction, and I feel like we’re going to take some steps forward this year.”
On the challenge of having three other ACC schools in North Carolina
Manning: “That’s just part of it. You don’t go to Wake, or Duke, Carolina or NC State without knowing that there are three other ACC schools in your area. It is what it is, and that’s just part of it. Those four schools are founding members of the ACC. They’ve been there forever. They will continue to be. You embrace the excitement that surrounds ACC Basketball, particularly in our state.”
On what kind of play Bryant Crawford can be
Manning: “I think he can be a really, really good player. Last year, as a true freshman we put the ball in his hands, and he was second in the team in scoring. He led us in steals, assists and made 3-pointers as a true freshman. He needs to continue to improve, get better and take another step. But he is someone we feel can be one of the better guards in this league, especially as he continues to grow and develop.”
On, after losing so many down the stretch, if he took any solace in how the ACC performed in the postseason
Manning: “(laughing) No. No. No. I didn’t feel anything about that. Part of that is that there are no moral victories. Our league fared well and whatever, but we want to do much better. We want to be a team that plays a much longer season after the ACC slate is over. We’re moving in that direction. We like the players we have in our program. Eight of the 13 players we have are freshmen and sophomores, so we feel good about the future. We feel we’re going to take some significant steps forward this year. We’re just looking forward to it.”
On how he feels about his team defensively and in terms of depth
Manning: “For us, the majority of the guys on this team have been recruited to play in this system. We feel like that is going to pay dividends, and that’s no disrespect to anybody on our team before. Some of those guys just weren’t a fit to the system we had. We’re looking forward to having a group of guys fitted for this system, so to speak. We feel we have more guys capable of making a jump shot. When we took over, our shooting was something that needed to be addressed. The fact of the matter is when you take over a job during the Final Four and the early signing date is what it is — it’s hard to recruit kids for two months when schools have been recruiting them for a year-and-a-half to two years. It’s hard to beat them out.
"We got really lucky getting Dinos (Mitoglou) and Mitch (Wilbekin). Mitch was committed to us at Tulsa, and followed us to Wake. Dinos was somebody Randolph (Childress) found in Greece. Those two guys worked out really well for us. We feel like we’re addressing our needs, and this is the best shooting team we’ve had in the three years we’ve been here. We’re excited about that. We have to get better defensively and we have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball. In a crazy way, I feel like having a better shooting team will help us in those areas a little bit. Instead of having guys not being confident enough to take certain shots on the perimeter and then you drive in to force things to happen — we had too many live-ball turnovers last year. It hurt us in a lot of different ways.”
Manning: “This is the most versatile team we’ve had. We have guys that make us deep at every position. Obviously (Bryant) Crawford — there’s not too many of them running around out there. Mitchell Wilbekin has been in the fires before, and he understands it. Keyshawn Woods has some experience in college. Austin Arians has some experience. We’re excited about those guys. Brandon Childress has done exceptionally well since he’s been on campus. Richard Washington is someone who is capable of making a shot. I feel good about where our skill set has gone, and the development guys have made since they’ve been with us.”
On if he ever looked back on last season to see exactly where things went awry
Manning: “I don’t think you can pinpoint it. We had a pretty good non-conference season. The mistakes we were making in the non-conference, we couldn’t make in the conference and get away with it. That’s the biggest issue.”
On beating good teams in the non conference slate
Manning: “We did, but if you go back and look at some of the categories that we didn’t do so well in — those things really hurt us in conference play. Then also, it’s just our conference. You want to be a team that goes out and have a great amount of success in our league, but it’s not going to be easy. We can look back at each game we lost in conference play — where were we at the 10-minute mark? Where were we at the 5-minute mark? For the most part, we were right there. You followed us. It comes down to being a better free throw shooting team, taking better care of the basketball and becoming a better defensive team. If you have guys who are able to make some shots, it puts a little more pressure on the other team when they have to come down there and score some points and make a shot. We haven’t had that on a consistent basis from multiple players.”