Let’s be honest, from Syracuse to Charlottesville down to Tobacco Road, the real holiday season has little to do with Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas lights or menorahs. The real reason we celebrate in ACC country is the start of college basketball season. Each week in this space we’ll take a look at the most interesting and important happenings around the league that made college hoops a national phenomenon.
TIME TO WAKE UP: Everyone is biased. It’s a part of human nature that can’t be eliminated and the folly of many a sports writer is to pretend those biases don’t exist rather than just do their best not to prevent them from being fair and honest with their readers and themselves.
That’s all just to preface that I am an unabashed Danny Manning fan. One of my earliest and fondest childhood memories growing up in Kansas is Manning grabbing his 18th rebound (to go along with 31 points) as time expired in the 1988 NCAA title game. Basketball consumed my youth from that point forward.
My brother’s birthday is May 17, same as Manning’s. Each year I wish him Happy Danny Manning Day. I’m wearing a Danny and The Miracles t-shirt as I write this.
But Manning is in trouble as the head coach at Wake Forest. His Demon Deacons are 0-2 with losses to Georgia Southern and Liberty. Liberty hadn’t won a non-conference road game in five years until winning by 13 in Winston-Salem on Tuesday. It might be a little much to declare the season over before Thanksgiving, but making the NCAA Tournament needs to be the standard at Wake Forest and those kind of bad, bad losses could make that very difficult.
You knew there would be an adjustment after losing star power forward John Collins to the NBA, but Manning has a veteran team that starts three juniors and a senior to go along with a solid recruiting class led by guard Chaundee Brown. This start is, frankly, unimaginable and it has to turnaround in a hurry.
The Deacs sneaked into the NCAA Tournament last season, but didn’t make it out of the play-in round. In a super tough ACC Wake needs to see improvement each year and that’s not easy. Through Manning’s first three seasons in the conference he was going against Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim and Tony Bennett. That’s arguably five of the top 15 coaches in the country and doesn’t even mention Mike Brey, Jim Larrañaga, Buzz Williams or Josh Pastner. Moving up the ranks in the ACC is hard.
Manning is a good recruiter and probably the best big-man coach in the nation. He did a good job at Tulsa before taking over at Wake Forest. But even I’m beginning to wonder if it’s going to work out at Wake Forest.
DUKE IS DUKE: Taking a look at The opposite end of the spectrum, Duke proved it is worthy of its early No. 1 ranking. The Blue Devils scored an impressive early victory against No. 2 Michigan State in a game that, even when the Spartans briefly took the lead with four minutes left, it never felt like Duke would lose.
The most impressive thing about Duke’s win. It did it, more or less, without Marvin Bagley. The superstar freshmen only played 10 minutes because of poke in the eye and scored four points. No matter, on this night anyway, it looked like senior Grayson Allen had his head on straight on the way to a career-high 37 points.
Allen and Bagley are destined to get the attention for the Devils, whether it be positive or negative, but the real story for Duke so far is freshman point guard Trevon Duval. He finished with 17 points, 12 assists and six steals, his second straight double-double. Duval was the focus of an intense recruiting battle between Duke, Kansas and Arizona and he’s showing why.
SOMETHING IN THE WATER: Are the baskets regulation size in the Commonwealth of Virginia? There was a scoring explosion in the state this week with Virginia Tech putting 132 points on the board Sunday against The Citadel, the most in school history for a regulation game.
A night later Virginia, epicenter of the Embrace the (Slow) Pace movement, scored 93 against Austin Peay. That was the most in Tony Bennett’s nine seasons at UVa.
It was a fun couple of offensive displays, but don’t expect it to become a trend. Virginia Tech simply had the athletes to beat the run-and-gun Bulldogs at their own game. Defense was virtually non-existent on either end, and with superior players such as freshmen Nickeil Alexander-Walker and 6-10 junior Kerry Blackshear Jr., The Citadel didn’t stand a chance.
One could argue Virginia has never actually played “slow” as they’ve so often been tagged with. In terms of ball and player movement, few teams are more active. But the Cavaliers are incredibly picky in their shot selection. But when they shoot 63 percent from the field and 79 percent from the free throw line they are going to score points.
Given the athletes and shooters on the roster this season — Jay Huff, De’Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy to name a few — Virginia could get up and down the floor a little more this season, but look for more scores in the 70s and 80s and don’t be surprised if 93 remains a high in the Bennett era for a while.