DAYTON, OHIO — There’s no shared history between Wake Forest (19-13) basketball and Kansas State (20-13), but that all changes Tuesday night as the two programs meet for the first time in the NCAA Tournament First Four at approximately 9:10 p.m. at Dayton Arena
In Wake Forest coach Danny Manning’s third season at the helm, the Deacs have returned to postseason tournament play, ending a six-year drought that arguably fractured the fan base.
That six-year absence followed on the heels of a prosperous run that saw the Deacs compete in postseason play 18 out of 20 years from 1991 to 2010.
“For us, the first couple of years, you're trying to lay down your foundation, you want to be competitive, you want to win but you want to make sure that your foundation is solid,” Manning said Monday. “And we feel like we've got a solid foundation. We feel like the young men in our program understand what we want from them, both on the court and off the court.”
Wake forward John Collins said he knew this turnaround was possible.
“I think even though people doubted him doing it at an ACC school, I still like the way he approaches the game, the way he spoke about -- the way he takes time to build a program,” Collins said. “And he needs players. And I think that was part of the reason I bought in, especially because he was an all-time great at Kansas.”
The late season Wake run, with final-week victories over Virginia Tech and Louisville fueled their inclusion in the Big Dance. Now that they’ve made it in, they’re focused on doing some damage.
Manning knows Kansas State is a dangerous opponent.
“We're playing a very talented team in K-State. Very balanced team. Got quite a few guys, their whole starting lineup averaging double-digit points,” Manning said. “And everybody brings something unique to the table in that starting lineup.
“D.J. (Johnson) is a big guy with a motor, who is always on go, full tilt. Works extremely hard on both ends of the floor. (Dean) Wade is a pick-and-pop big who can go down to the post and do some things. Wesley (Iwundo), in my opinion, is their best player who does it all, scores at all three levels -- defends, gets deflections, rebounds. I think he's a terrific player. And I think their guards in (Kamau) Stokes and (Barry) Brown do a great job in pushing in transition, making 3s and also getting to the paint.”
Manning said the Wildcats talent doesn't stop with their starting five.
“They bring in guys off their bench that give them a chance to have success. And defensively, they're one of the better defensive teams in the country, he said. “Most of Coach Weber's teams always had that type of mentality, so to speak. And it's going to be a tough challenge for us, but one that we welcome and look forward to.”
The winner Tuesday night squares off against No. 6 seed Cincinnati 929-4, 16-2 AAC) at 7:27 p.m. in Sacramento, Calif. The game will be televised on TruTV. The winner of that contest will play the winner of UCLA (29-4) vs. Kent State (22-13).