When Wake Forest takes the floor for the second game of the 2015 ACC tournament Tuesday afternoon against Virginia Tech, Deacons head coach Danny Manning will accomplish a first.
It will be the first ACC tournament game that Manning has attended in person.
Despite growing up in Greensboro, where he starred for Page High School, and being the son of a professional basketball player, it’s somewhat surprising that Manning never ventured into the Coliseum for the ACC tournament. He talked about those days Monday after his 11th-seeded Deacons (13-18, 5-13 ACC) wrapped up their practice session. They will play 15th seed Virginia Tech (10-21, 2-16) at approximately 3 p.m. Tuesday, following the 1 p.m. contest between 12th seed Boston College (12-18, 4-14) and 13th seed Georgia Tech (12-18, 3-15).
“I remember coming to this building a lot to watch my father play,” Manning said of his father Ed, who played for the Carolina Cougars in the old ABA. “And I played some high school games here.”
But that was as close to the ACC that Manning ever came. Despite being a major recruiting target of such ACC stalwarts as North Carolina and N.C. State in the early 1980s, Manning ended up at Kansas after his father was hired as an assistant coach by Larry Brown, Ed’s former Cougars coach.
‘An extra buzz in the air’
Manning remembered how special a time ACC tournament week was in Greensboro while he was growing up, however.
“A lot of energy, a lot of excitement,” he recalled. “I remember in school, teachers would bring TVs and radios in for the games. Some of my friends were fortunate enough to go to a game. But you could feel it in the city. When the ACC tournament rolled around, there was an extra buzz in the air.”
Manning will be one of three head coaches prowling the sidelines Tuesday with an imaginary rookie stripe on the back of his seat. Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams and Boston College’s Jim Christian also will make their ACC tournament debuts. Fourth-year Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory is the veteran here, and he didn’t get past the first round until his third try a year ago. For the record, Louisville’s Rick Pitino appears in his first ACC tournament Thursday.
Christian said his impression of the ACC tournament while viewing it as an outsider was that it had “the best teams, the best atmosphere. Plus there’s the whole history of the tournament.
“I was reading in the newspaper (an article) breaking down the tournament. It's special.”
Williams said his ACC tournament debut reminded him of his Big East tournament appearances with Marquette.
“I remember my first game as a head coach in the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden and just how country-come-to-town I felt,” he said.
Feeling the pressure
Something else these coaches share – the realization that, barring a miraculous effort, their seasons will end here, as all have records well under .500. Right now, only six ACC teams can be confident of receiving at-large berths to the NCAA tournament. Four others are more likely in a down-to-the-wire struggle to make the NIT or some other second-tier postseason event.
“It's do or die – everybody knows that,” Manning said. “At this time of year, that’s everybody’s mentality.”
Yet despite their position at the bottom of the standings, the four first-round participants have had their moments.
“All four teams that are playing tomorrow – and I know Wake Forest has struggled lately – every one of those four teams has lost four, five, six games that could have gone either way,” Gregory said.
But as Manning pointed out, “The bottom line is, if you don’t win, you have to get better. … Obviously we have work to do. We’re moving in the right direction. Obviously not as fast as we’d like.
“It’s a super competitive league. I knew that coming in, when I accepted the job.”
Gregory will be without one of his key players as junior swing man Marcus Georges-Hunt, his leading scorer, is out with a broken fifth metatarsal in his right foot suffered last Tuesday against North Carolina. He is scheduled for surgery next Monday.
That could leave the Yellowjackets short-handed offensively against BC, which is led by ACC scoring leader Olivier Hanlan (19.4 ppg) and sports the second-longest current winning streak – three games – in the league. Duke is the runaway leader at 11 games.
Wake Forest, meanwhile, will try to bring its height advantage to bear against an undermanned and undersized Virginia Tech team.
“For them they’re probably looking at it as a quickness advantage,” Manning said of the Hokies, who feature only two players taller than 6-foot-7 and often use a four-guard alignment to maximize their perimeter shooting.