Luke DeCock

The ACC tournament comes home, and Wake Forest goes home

Wake Forest falls to Miami in first round of ACC Tournament

Check out photos from the first round game between Wake Forest and Miami in the 2019 ACC Tournament in Charlotte.
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Check out photos from the first round game between Wake Forest and Miami in the 2019 ACC Tournament in Charlotte.

It’s good to be home, except maybe for Wake Forest. For the Demon Deacons, the only good thing about the ACC tournament being back in North Carolina was how short the trip back to Winston-Salem was. Not how quickly that trip arrived.

The ACC’s three-year tour of the northern reaches of the footprint is over. Note the absence of the word “finally” there. Washington was great, so much more than merely a tweak of Maryland’s nose. The two years in Brooklyn were probably one too many, but it was an interesting diversion and could have gone so much worse.

Inside the building, it was the same as it ever was. It was only once you stepped outside the Barclays Center that the ACC evaporated in the noise and bustle of New York, where there’s always something more important going on.

In Charlotte, there’s nothing more important that this, not this week. It’s been a busy few months uptown, from the NBA All-Star Game to the CIAA tournament to this, but even with the usual sparse Tuesday crowd there was a buzz not just inside but outside the arena that was missing the past two years.

You know where you are, and why you’re here. Which is the whole point.

The ACC has some decisions to make going forward, with tournament sites only assigned through 2022 – Greensboro next year, then Washington, then Brooklyn. The hope, in taking that interim position, was that the conference would find a way to nudge the Big East out of Madison Square Garden for a year sometime in that decade.

Then the Big East successfully defended its turf, fending off the ACC and Big Ten, which sent the ACC back to square one.

So there’s going to be some kind of rotation, with Charlotte, Washington and Brooklyn the primary sites and Greensboro in the mix and maybe even a few wild cards thrown in – a return to Atlanta or Tampa, or maybe even Pittsburgh – but it hasn’t been settled yet. (There’s also the brilliant idea to play the 75th tournament, in 2028, in Raleigh: Tuesday at Reynolds Coliseum, Wednesday-Saturday at PNC Arena.)

Wake Forest basketball coach talks about his teams lack of experience throughout the season and the improvement of his young players. Wake fell to Miami in the first round of the ACC Tournament Tuesday, March 12, 2019.

This weekend will hopefully drive home, as that decision is made, why it’s important for the health of this tournament to be here more often than not. Even after expansion. Three years was not only the longest the ACC has been away, but too long.

Not that Wake Forest was around long enough to savor the atmosphere. In five years at Wake Forest, Danny Manning has won one ACC tournament game. There may not be a chance for a second. What was already a bad day for Wake Forest – volleyball coach Bill Ferguson was indicted in the admissions bribery scandal Tuesday – got worse with another early exit.

The Demon Deacons’ 79-71 loss to Miami, combined with last week’s appointment of John Currie as athletic director to replace the retiring Ron Wellman, lowers the curtain on Wake Forest’s season and raised it on the speculation about Manning’s job status, not that Manning or his players would acknowledge it.

“He’s going to be here, too,” freshman Isaiah Mucius said. “I’m not worried about that.”

Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning, right, walks off the court after his team lost to Miami in an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Chuck Burton AP

Manning, though, sounded a little more contemplative when asked if he thought he would be back.

“That’s my hope,” Manning said. “That’s always the hope.”

He pointed out (justifiably) his team’s youth and all the new roles his players were asked to assume, but after yet another 20-loss season, the third in the past four years, it was hard to feel all that optimistic about the future.

Wake Forest came and went before the tournament even got started, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that Manning’s reported $18 million buyout is the only thing keeping him employed at this point.

The tournament stays home next year, in Greensboro. It’ll be an even shorter trip for Wake Forest, no matter who’s coaching.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.