WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Danny Manning’s young Deacs (2-0) are on the road for three games in four days — games that should tell us a little more about just how good his team is and how far they could go this season.
They begin play at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the Charleston Classic against UTEP (1-0), but a win there may earn them a second-round matchup against No. 3, defending NCAA Champion Villanova.
Wake coach Danny Manning has no time for thinking ahead to Friday’s game, however.
“My head is in UTEP right now. When I was a player and you go to a tournament like this, you know who’s in the field,” Manning said. “We have guys on our team who are basketball junkies and I’m sure some of them watch a lot of college basketball. This is a great time of year, with a lot of good games and tough matchups.
“Hell, I hope they did watch some of it (Villanova at Purdue Monday night). But the fact of the matter of it is, our most important game is our next one. That’s UTEP.”
UTEP, coached by Tim Floyd, is 1-0 on the season with a 88-54 win over Louisiana College.
“I’ve watched many of his teams play, and he’s a great coach. They have a talented basketball team. They have two guards in (Dominic) Artis and Omega (Harris) that I got to know when we were at Tulsa,” Manning said. “We recruited them pretty hard. They have got off to a really good start. I think Wynn is a really smart and talented basketball player. Their team in general plays really hard, the understand who they are and do a good job of sharing the basketball.
“Defensively they throw some different looks at you that you have to continue to stay poised and disciplined in your offensive sets.”
Manning said the Miners will try to speed up the pace defensively, and when they do, the Deacs want to attack.
“Defensively, they try to speed you up. They pick you up full-court some, and throw different types of pressure at you. The biggest thing for us is to make sure we make ourselves available versus any type of pressure,” Manning said. “We need good, hard cuts and good spacing. The best way to beat pressure is to attack pressure. That’s got to be our mentality whenever we see any type of pressure.”
Win or lose, the Deacs will face either Villanova or Western Michigan Friday afternoon.
“Going into it, we’re prepared for UTEP, and then you’re blind. Blind, in terms of preparation. A lot of it will come down to guarding your defensive principles. A lot of comes down to your core principles.,” Manning said. “That’s something we’ll spend some more time on, and we continue to take steps. We took a couple of baby steps, but have a ways to go.”
Despite holding solid, double-digit leads late in the first two games of the season, Manning has yet to really unload the bench. Sam Japhet-Mathias has played just one minute and fellow freshman Donovan Mitchell has yet to see the floor.
“I feel comfortable playing 10, 11 guys. It’s just the situation didn’t dictate. Trent Van Horn is somebody I feel very comfortable with. It’s just the rotations, the way the game was flowing, and what we were looking for at certain times, I didn’t call his numbers,” Manning said. “Rich (Washington)got an early opportunity. He shoots the ball very well, and I thought against the matchup zone would be a good opportunity for us to use him. All of our guys have to be prepared, because they know their number could be called. Our depth is going to be very important to us in this tournament, playing three games in four days. We will try to get more bodies into the game, and try to keep our guys fresh.”
After reviewing tape of the first two games on the season, Manning is encouraged by some of what he’s seen.
“I think we’re a better shooting team. We’re not going to shoot 50 percent behind the arc on a regular basis, but we have guys out there who you have to go out there with them,” he said. “I was encouraged in the Radford game where our post guys had a good presence. I thought in the Bucknell game, even though we didn’t convert at the rate we’d like to convert, we got their bigs into foul trouble as we put the ball inside.
“For us, it’s defense. We have to continue to take steps and get better across the board. That’s something we’ll continue to address.”