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New Beginnings, Same Old Story

Wake Forest is still suffering the embarrassing losses in year five under head coach Danny Manning that it did in the early years of his tenure.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four-Kansas State vs Wake Forest Rick Osentoskii-USA TODAY Sports

The motto for this year’s Wake Forest basketball team is “New Beginnings”, but as any Demon Deacon fan who has sat through the past 8 years will tell you, in five games this season it has just been the “same old, same old”.

Wake Forest sits at 3-2 with a 20 point loss to the Atlantic 10’s St. Joseph’s Hawks, and then a brutal, embarrassing, and incredible loss to a school called the Houston Baptist Huskies.

The Huskies went 6-25 in basketball last year, joined Division 1 in 2009, and were in the NAIA as recently as 2007. Since joining D-1, it has beaten a top 200 team in KenPom six times, defeated more non D-1 schools than top 200 KenPom teams, and its best win was against a St. Peters Peacocks team that finished 95th in 2016.

I would even love to be able to say the win over St Peters was the Huskies best win until it defeated Wake Forest on an aptly named “Black Friday”, but Wake was ranked 111th heading into the game, so we can’t even peacock the Peacocks.

This year was supposed to be different, there’s a legitimately talented freshman class on campus now, highlighted by a projected first round draft and possible lottery pick in Jaylen Hoard. Isaiah Mucius and Sharone Wright, Jr. have also played better than I expected at the beginning of the year.

There is a steady junior point guard, who is the son of a Demon Deacon legend (as we have pointed out to us on every single television broadcast), and a raw, athletic 7-footer at the center position.

But not even an impressive freshman class and a roster that many coaches in the country would kill for could stop Houston Baptist from erasing a 14 point second half deficit with 9 minutes left, a 6 point deficit with 40 seconds left, and a 4 point lead in overtime with just over a minute left to win 93-91 over an ACC team.

Turnover after turnover, failed defensive possession after failed defensive possession, and inexplicable coaching in the waning minutes all doomed the Demon Deacons from beating the mighty Huskies.

All credit to Houston Baptist for what is, without a doubt, one of the proudest moments in its basketball history, but Wake Forest proved once again that when met with any type of adversity and toughness, that it will somehow falter and collapse. This is a reflection on the coaching staff and it is a culture of losing that has been developed, cultivated, reiterated, and ultimately accepted over the past eight years in the program.

I am not going to sit here all year and write “Fire Manning” articles after every loss because that’s not going to solve anything and will only lead to more personal frustration and a toxic environment for the blog overall.

What we are going to do here is contextualize historically and statistically the shortcomings of this Wake Forest basketball team and the past few years of basketball to demonstrate that a change is almost certainly needed at the end the year.

Apathy is the biggest problem when a certain kind of disappointing result becomes the norm. It is very important to hold those making decisions and influencing results on the court accountable for their actions and demand change when that standard is not being met.

Surely what we have witnessed on the court the past few seasons is well below the standard of most folks who care about Wake Forest basketball.

I do not believe that Ron Wellman is going to make a change mid-season, and I am never a person who is going to pull for Wake Forest to lose just so it will justify the end that so many people want at this point (including myself). I fully acknowledge that many in the comment section and in real life believe that we should go ahead and make a move now, but I don’t think there is a difference in doing it now and at the end of year, because I would not consider hiring anybody on the current staff to be the next head coach anyway, so there’s no need for anybody to prove anything on an interim basis.

I wrote before the season started that this year, right or wrong, is going to be the measuring stick that will determine the future of Danny Manning in Winston-Salem in my mind, and while there are a lot of games left in the season, I’ve got to say that we are off to a heckuva bad start.

It is year five and so far Danny Manning is 57-75 (20-52 in the ACC). That’s a .430 win percentage overall, and .280 in ACC play. For reference, Jeff Bzdelik was fired after his fourth year with a 51-76 (17-51) record. That’s .400 overall and .250 in ACC play. Not a huge difference there, and negligible when you are talking about such putrid records and whether they are anywhere near acceptable.

This team is young, and it will no doubt get better as the year goes along. There is more talent and athleticism than we have seen on a Wake roster in a long time, and usually that translates to better defense than we have seen. Unfortunately we have such a long way to improve to even get to an average team in the ACC, that we are likely 2-3 years away from mediocrity, even if we kept a roster in tact through an off-season, which has also been a massive problem.

The poor defense, baffling in-game coaching decisions, and high roster turnover year-to-year have made it impossible to get better over time, and it seems like this year is more of the same.

I hate that I have to write this article (and feel like I have written it five times at least in the past eight years), and I really dislike being negative this early on in a season, but I am tired of seeing what was once a proud basketball tradition be relegated to the worst in the ACC for an entire decade.

This is unacceptable, and at the end of the year something needs to be done to change the trajectory and direction of Wake Forest basketball. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, and yet here we are again, doing the same thing with millions of dollars being rendered for poor services.

Barring something unforeseen happening this season, and it literally is “unforeseen” because nothing I have seen from Danny Manning indicates that we will see improvement to the level necessary to retain him, Wake Forest needs to hire a new head coach at the end of the season.

Here’s to the staff and the team proving me wrong the rest of the season, as this is not something that I exactly want to be correct about.

As always, Go Deacs.