Wake Forest coach Danny Manning believes NCAA Tournament is 'the standard'

Sep 28, 2017 | by Alec Brzezinski, Sporting News

Wake Forest last season made its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2009-10, and coach Danny Manning would like the program to get used to the feeling.

“Making the NCAA Tournament is our goal every year, that’s the standard," Manning said in an exclusive interview with Omnisport. "It’s the highest level in which you want to accomplish, that’s how we think.

"It means we’re moving in the right direction. We want to be in the NCAA Tournament, which will give you a chance to compete for the ultimate prize — win the national championship”

Manning led the Demon Deacons to a 19-14 record last season (9-9 in ACC play), while earning a spot in the tournament as a part of the First Four. Wake Forest ultimately lost 95-88 to Kansas State in a high-octane game.

Wake Forest will once again have to navigate through a tough schedule, facing the rigors of ACC play. Manning doesn't think that is necessarily a bad thing.

“The (ACC) is the best conference in college basketball, and that’s a positive," Manning said. "Depending on how you look at it, it could be a negative, too, because it is the best conference in basketball. We know the types of players, teams and coaches that are in this league, and we need to be prepared once it hits. Once conference season hits, we like to say there are no days off."

The Demon Deacons are expected to be led by Bryant Crawford this season. Crawford, a 6-3 junior guard, averaged 16.2 points and 5.5 assists last season.

“Bryant came in and we gave him the keys to the car as a freshman, he has been our starting point the last two years, and he will be one of our starters this year," Manning said. "I thought he really improved across the board last year. I think he was overshadowed by John (Collins, selected 19th overall by the Hawks in the 2017 NBA Draft), the jump John made, but we certainly know that if Bryant doesn’t have the year he had we don’t get to the tournament. So we’re looking for him to continue being a leader.

"Heading into his junior year, he will be aware of what he needs to do, what he needs to bring to the table for our team to continue to get better. He has taken ownership of being one of the captains, one of the leaders.”

Manning hopes to attack teams with a quick pace, leaning on his more experienced backcourt.

“We want to push tempo, we want to play fast," Manning said. "That’s how we always want to do it. We’ve established how we want to play. We want to be an up-tempo team.

“Our guards are without question the strong suit of our team this year. They are going to be the driving force, and we feel comfortable that we have some frontcourt players that are going to be able to contribute. But make no mistake about it, our guards are the ones that are going to have to provide the engine for the locomotive this year."

Not only did Wake Forest's frontcourt lose Collins to the NBA, it also suffered the departure of forward Dinos Mitoglou, who left the program to sign with Panathinaikos in the EuroLeague. Yet, Manning feels confident in the frontcourt players he has left on his squad.

“Those guys have an opportunity in front of them," he said. "The opportunity to command playing time. We have some guys working extremely hard to hopefully take advantage of this opportunity, but when you look at it on paper, we don’t have a frontcourt player that has established himself yet.

"Hopefully that changes at the start of the season, but like I said, there are plenty of opportunities for all our frontcourt players to make a huge contribution to our team. Now they have to go out and seize that opportunity.”