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Wake Forest Basketball Must Get Results Next Year

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It is absolutely a “make or break” year results-wise for Wake Forest basketball in 2018-19

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Syracuse vs Wake Forest Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The time for “setting the culture”, “building the foundation”, and “weeding out the bad seeds” on the Wake Forest basketball team is over. It is time to win, and it needs to occur in the 2018-19 season if head coach Danny Manning is to return to Winston-Salem as the Wake Forest head coach for his sixth season.

I take absolutely no joy in writing this article because I have enjoyed watching Danny Manning in the media and also how he represents Wake Forest. I have met him in passing and have nothing against him at all as a person, but this is a business, and the bottom line is that you have to win games.

I firmly believe that if Wake Forest does not make the NCAA Tournament next season then Athletic Director Ron Wellman needs to look for another basketball coach.

I understand that an extension was just given during the season and I have no knowledge of what the buyout is or if Wake could even buy him out (a different problem altogether), but given the talent, experience, and makeup of the projected lineup, it’s the “NCAA Tournament or bust” in my opinion.

A simple comparison of Danny Manning to former Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik is quite revealing.

Overall, Wake Forest is 105-149 (41%), (37-103 in ACC play, 26%) since Dino Gaudio was fired.

Bzdelik finished 51-76 (17-51), and Manning is 54-73 (20-52).

Has Manning been better than Bzdelik on the court? According to the records the answer is “yes, by three games”, but even more than that, the team has been more competitive, we have made a First Four (yay?!?), and Manning is just a much nicer human being than Bzdelik.

However, Wake finished this year in the low 90’s in KenPom, which is still very bad for any ACC team, and this is through four years. It is also just 30 spots higher than where Bzdelik left the Deacs after his fourth year.

For this season Wake Forest has a top 20 recruiting class coming in, and in theory a strong roster that, on paper, should contend for an NCAA Tournament berth.

I have heard rumblings about more turnover on the current roster during the off-season, but until any of that is finalized I’m simply going to assess the roster as we know it. If and when these changes take place we will discuss it then, but the NCAA Tournament is still going to be my bar, regardless of who does or does not return.

Even with Woods not returning, the current starting lineup for next year looks like this:

PG - Brandon Childress (JR.)

SG- Bryant Crawford (SR.)

SF- Chaundee Brown (SO.)

PF- Jaylen Hoard (FR.)

C- Doral Moore (SR.)

That is a heck of a lot of talent and experience in a starting lineup, and that talent cannot be wasted as it has been for the past few years at Wake Forest.

Could depth be an issue? Yes, given the transfer and dismissals, Wake Forest currently is sitting at 10 scholarship players. I assume Sunday Okeke will get a scholarship and then the final two will be split with one to a grad transfer and one to a late blossoming 2018 player. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if more guys leave.

The point stands though, if a head coach of an ACC team cannot get to the NCAA Tournament with a starting lineup of: two seniors, a junior point guard, and two top 30 players in their classes, then it is time to move on.

I fully understand that things happen in college basketball that are beyond the control of a coach. John Collins got too good too fast and left a huge void in the front court for Wake this year.

The staff did a great job to identify Collins, develop him, and get him to where he is now with the Atlanta Hawks. The same can be said about Doral Moore and what he did this year for the Deacs, but you have to be prepared to replace great players if you want to continue to perform at a level high enough to make the NCAA Tournament.

Danny Manning was hired into a very difficult spot at Wake Forest. It was always a “high-risk, high-reward” hire because Wellman had driven the program so low with the Bzdelik hire that pretty much nobody wanted to touch it.

There have definitely been bright spots under Manning. He has done a great job identifying talent early on and is usually among the first to offer really talented high school kids before they blow up. That is turning into good recruiting, which culminated in a top 20 class this year. He has also shown that he can call a lot of good set plays out of timeouts, ranking in the top 5% in both baseline and sideline in-bounds plays nationally this year

The downside is that Manning has been expected to learn on the job because he only had two years of head coaching experience before getting hired to Wake. He has, at times, struggled to make this a smooth transition, particularly with questionable substitution patterns, poor timeout management, and just an overall sub-par macro-strategy from game to game.

Whether or not Wake will ever be good on defense under Manning is one of the biggest questions I have, and that is what he hung his hat on at the press conference where he was announced, and excelled at while at Tulsa.

The attrition from year to year is also very concerning. There are all sorts of reasons that guys transfer or leave a program: lack of playing time, unhappy with their fit in the program, personal situations, going pro, or getting dismissed. I understand that transferring is a huge part of college sports now, but you have to question whether or not the coaching staff is getting through to their players and getting them to buy-in to the program when this many guys leave every year.

In the past two months Wake has had four guys transfer or be dismissed from the program. That is not how you establish a program. It is especially damning when you have somebody like Donovan Mitchell leaving when he was in line for a big role next year.

We are now in year five under Danny Manning and every player here is his and was recruited by him. That means when guys don’t work out, transfer, or get dismissed, for whatever reason, it is a “miss” on his sheet.

This year’s team had a lot of talent on it, and while there wasn’t much at the PF position, it was much better than an 11 win team. Personally I believe this team underachieved by a lot. Yes, you can look at the fact that Wake lost a handful of close games in excruciating fashion, and those games are usually luck driven, but the record is what it is.

Now you can’t completely dismiss the transfers and players going pro when looking at the big picture, because it can be difficult to handle the unexpected ones, but programs that are successful year in and year out deal with this type of stuff every year.

I am sure that Keyshawn Woods did not just decide today that he was going to move on.

This should be a move that the staff already knew about, and has been prepared to address. I mean we have heard about this likely happening for over a month now, and we’re just some lowly blog.

Mediocre programs have a good year here and there, but are inconsistent and fall off the map because they lack preparedness and the foresight to deal with possible roster problems.

Good programs have contingency plans and are ready for everything year in and year out and can replace players because the sum of the team is greater than any individual parts.

It seems at this point that Wake Forest’s coaching staff falls under the first category of unprepared, a lot of which I think is due to inexperience on the staff as far as knowing how to run a successful, healthy program.

In Athletic Director Ron Wellman’s end of season interview I am sure that we will continue to hear that he is happy with the direction of the program and the staff is just getting the guys who don’t want to be here out of here.

He will say that “everybody is disappointed” in what transpired this year, but that “success and rebuilding isn’t linear”, and we are “getting there”, and a “foundation is being built” (seriously I can almost guarantee he will hit on at least 34 phrases that I just listed).

Of course he won’t be wrong with any of these points, but they are just excuses.

Wake Forest fans are tired of excuses. We are tired of excuses about how “Wake doesn’t cheat”, we “don’t do one-and-dones”, we “don’t take shortcuts”, and “need to be patient”.

Most of all, we are tired of losing.

What fan base can you point to out there that has been as patient as Wake Forest’s fan base?

It still brought an announced attendance of over 10,000 fans for Senior Day against Notre Dame this season. That would fill all but 75 of Division-I arenas completely, and that was to watch an 11-16 basketball team with no postseason hopes play. Not to mention Wake has a ridiculously small alumni base compared to most other D-I programs.

This is a fan base that is unbelievably ready to be relevant again. We get excited about the smallest things and will once again hope against hope this upcoming year that it is the season that Wake Forest will get back to where it should be.

Am I being too impatient and unfair to Coach Manning? I have gone back and forth on that throughout the year. I was a pretty big defender of his leading into this season and even during the first part, but too many things have gone awry that I believe an ACC coach should be able to handle for me to defend it much longer.

Maybe I am wrong, maybe the improvements will come in the in-game coaching, the recruiting will pay off, and I am just not giving him a fair chance, but I think five years under even the worst of conditions is enough time to get a program back to a reasonable level in a Power 5 conference.

Could Wake make the NIT next year, lose Crawford and Moore, and then be better in 2019 with Chill at point and a junior Brown/sophomore Hoard? Possibly, but it feels to me like losing those guys as seniors would be almost harder to replace than anything we are doing this year.

That is why, in my opinion, this year HAS to be the year for results and anything short of making the NCAA Tournament should result in a change of the head coach at Wake Forest.