WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Top to bottom, the ACC is widely recognized as the toughest basketball conference in the country.
With an intense 18-game slate, finding navigable stretches can be tough.
Strangely enough, one such series of games may start for the Deacs Wednesday when they host No. 11 North Carolina.
The Deacs then host Miami, before road games against North Carolina State and Syracuse — two teams that have been reeling in recent weeks.
Demon Deacon Digest spoke with Wake Forest coach Danny Manning Tuesday before practice about the challenge facing the Deacs at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Joel Coliseum.
On bouncing back and preparing to face a top-15 team like UNC
Manning: “That’s our league. We knew that going into it. Everybody understands that. For us, we have to just continue to go out here and work. We have to continue to get better. We didn’t do enough things at Virginia to win the game. I thought we did a few good things, however, during certain stretches. We have to mimic those activities a little bit longer, especially down the stretch of ballgames.”
On the importance of having a vibrant home crowd atmosphere
Manning: “It’s very important for us. You feed off the home crowd energy at times. You have to give them something to support, and something to get excited about. I think when the excitement is there with a full building, it’s definitely something you can piggy-back off from. What we needed to do (this season) to get better was to go out and play in hostile environments. Playing at home now, our home crowd is something that is extremely important.”
On how John Collins will be able to compete inside against UNC’s size, skill and depth on the interior
Manning: “I think John has to continue to evolve. He’s only a sophomore. This is the most number of games he’s started in college. He’s doing well, but we still think there are a few different levels he can get to. People have thrown a few different things at him. He has to make adjustments. Dinos (Mitoglou) has been in this situation before. He has to continue to be a threat from the perimeter, but also establish himself in the post at times when they switch on him. We have a tough matchup. No question about it. Those guys are long, active and get up and down the court well. We have to match their intensity and keep them off the offensive glass.”
On how he would grade Bryant Crawford defensively
Manning: “He needs to take another step. That’s all of our guys. That’s everyone on the team. Every time we step out on the court, we’re looking for improvement. BC has been the guy who has had the ball in his hands from day one, and he’s continued to evolve both as a player and as a leader for us. Sometimes as a younger player, when you command the attention of all your teammates — he stepped out of the comfort zone for himself at times. He’s doing a good job answering the challenges we’re giving him in that aspect. He’s doing well, but we’re expecting more.”
On Crawford usually getting a tough defensive assignment and still running the offense
Manning: “The challenge is trying to go out and slow guys down — that’s across the board. You aren’t going to just stop guys, but you can slow them down. Then come back down on the offensive end to have the patience to do what you need to be successful.”
On closing poorly in the ACC
Manning: “We talk about it. There’s definitely a lull in that second half somewhere from five-to-six minutes where we don’t play the best ball that we’re capable of playing. Those lulls usually come after we’ve been on a run, to be honest with you. We know runs are going to happen both ways. We have to learn to sustain a run against us a little bit better.”
On if there is anyone who has been more susceptible to getting caught during those lulls
Manning: “It’s the team. It’s not necessarily one person. Sometimes it’s a possession with good first-shot defense that doesn’t end with a rebound. Other times it’s not getting a loose ball or something of that nature. It’s something we’re aware of and working to correct. We do a lot of things during the course of the ballgame that have some success. We have to continue to mimic those actions during the course of the game.”