It has been 2,551 long days, but the Wake Forest Demon Deacons are finally playing in the NCAA Tournament again. A lot has happened since March 20, 2010. The basketball program has been through multiple coaching changes, experienced nice wins, as well as crushing defeats to both elite programs and bottom feeder programs. But here we are, back in the NCAA Tournament and playing the Kansas State Wildcats. This is where this program belongs and this is what we’ve been waiting for.
Over the past 7 years, or 2,551 days, there’s no denying that the program has experienced some quality wins. There have been seasons that included wins over Duke and North Carolina, Miami (when they won the conference), Indiana, or UCLA, but those big wins amounted to all of zero postseason appearances (NCAA Tournament or NIT). This basketball program is capable of more than just pulling off upsets. Big wins are great, but they can’t occur within a vacuum. They must supplement a season’s worth of quality play. That’s exactly what happened in Danny Manning’s third season on the sidelines in Winston-Salem.
The 88-81 victory over #8 Louisville wasn’t just satisfying because it was a victory over a top 10 team. It was so damn satisfying because it happened after the team had already accumulated 7 ACC wins and a 9-3 record in the non-conference. That win was further justified when the Deacs went to Blacksburg and took down an NCAA Tournament team in the Virginia Tech Hokies on senior night and then took care of business against Boston College in the ACC Tournament.
Wake Forest now has a quality overall resume, and not just a few flashy bullet points. They didn’t just get an interview, their resume got them the job. Tonight the Deacons go back to work in the NCAA Tournament. Danny Manning’s recruits (the entire roster outside of Greg McClinton) did not come to Wake Forest to have a shot to knock off Duke or North Carolina every so often. They came to compete against excellent teams, but they also came to play for tournament teams. We’ve seen the pieces being built over the years. Manning immediately added some quality rotation players in Mitchell Wilbekin and Dinos Mitoglou at the end of the 2014 recruiting cycle. He followed that up with a homerun recruiting class that included John Collins, Bryant Crawford, and Doral Moore. He then landed an excellent transfer in Keyshawn Woods, a very reliable freshman point guard in Brandon Childress, and a grad transfer in Austin Arians who added shooting to a roster that needed it. Those players came to play for a tournament team and now they are one.
The team is not happy simply to be in Dayton. I could tell by their business like reaction to being selected to play in the NCAA Tournament. They are going to Dayton to compete against Kansas State and do everything they can to earn a victory over a very good team and then take the flight to Sacramento to give it their all in a matchup against the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Tonight’s game is why we’re fans. We passionately support our school because we love Wake Forest, and damn have we earned the right to support a good team, just as the players have more than earned the right to be playing in tonight’s game. The night is finally here. Savor every second of this one, and let’s hope that we get to do it all over again on Friday night. Win or lose, I promise that there won’t be 2,551 days between NCAA Tournament games. Danny Manning has this program back where it belongs. Go Deacs!