College Sports

After opting to keep Danny Manning as coach, what’s fair to expect for Wake Forest?

On Friday morning, Wake Forest announced that basketball coach Danny Manning will be returning to the program for his sixth season in 2019-2020.

Apparently, the old adage on insanity — doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results — hasn’t yet reached Winston-Salem.

In his five seasons as Deacons coach, Manning has accrued a 65-93 record overall with just one NCAA tournament appearance. His teams are never beaten the ACC’s top programs, going 0-26 against Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, and Clemson during his tenure. This season, Wake finished 11-20 and was eliminated in the first round of the ACC tournament in Charlotte.

Athletics director Ron Wellman, who will retire May 1 and be replaced by former Tennessee AD John Currie, said in a university statement that he had met with Manning about the program’s next steps.

“Following the season, Danny and I had an extensive series of meetings to discuss the future of the program,” Wellman said. “We were in agreement that this past season did not approach the expectations either of us has for Wake Forest basketball. Our discussion focused on the steps that are needed to ensure that our team is highly competitive on the court next season.”

So, now that Wellman has committed to Manning for at least another season, what’s fair to expect from Wake’s basketball team?

There’s some obvious bad news, but also some good. The bad, clearly, is Manning’s resume to date. He now has three 20-loss seasons with the Deacons, compared to only two such seasons in program history prior to his arrival.

Then there’s the issue of why. Even with individual talent — Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins, one of the NBA’s top young players, played two seasons for Manning — why has Wake struggled so much?

Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning talks with his team, including from left, Brandon Childress (0), Torry Johnson (4), Isaiah Mucius (1) and Sharone Wright Jr. (2) during the second half of N.C. State’s 94-74 victory over Wake Forest at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. Ethan Hyman

Defense is the clear answer. This year’s team was ranked 185th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency per Kenpom, a basketball analytics site. That figure is easily the worst in the ACC, but also the fourth-worst of any Power 5 conference. Even during Wake’s lone winning season under Manning in 2016-2017, the Deacons were ranked 176th in defensive efficiency.

“I know sometimes people dismiss my calmness as a lack of passion or lack of interest in making changes,” Manning said during a news conference Friday. “I have been around the game of basketball since childhood and I do not think lashing out emotionally solves many problems.”

All is not hopeless for Wake Forest fans next season. Promising freshman forward Jaylen Hoard, a five-star recruit, is expected to enter the NBA draft, but under new NCAA guidelines, he could still return. Hoard was considered a potential first-round pick coming into this past season, but his stock slipped with an undeveloped offensive game.

Wake Forest also is still a finalist for point guard Cole Anthony, the No. 2 overall recruit in this year’s class. Sign the explosive Anthony to pair with Hoard, and two of the ACC’s more dynamic players would hail from Winston-Salem.

Even without Anthony, Wake could return its top six scorers next year. It also brings in Ismael Massoud, a 6-foot-8 forward who had offers from Georgia Tech and Florida State, behind Hoard. Factor in Charlotte transfer Andrien White — who averaged 15 points and 4.8 rebounds as a junior — and the Deacons are adding an influx of talent.

“They know that they showed glimpses of their potential last year,” Manning said of his current roster, “and are excited to put in the hard work to show what they can accomplish next season.”

Still, it would take most all those things going right — plus development from the team’s other returners — for Wake to become a legitimate ACC contender next season.

Much of that won’t be determined for the months to come. For now, only one thing is certain:

Manning is getting one last crack at fixing this thing.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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