As for my take on Wake’s basketball season thus far, let me begin with two words, an ellipsis and punctuation mark that I never ever use.
(But for occasion, I’m willing to make an exception).
What the. . . !
It’s probably 40 feet at best from the living room of our hacienda to the den. But as I was bouncing back and forth last night from watching Duke trade hammer blows with Michigan State in Chicago on the big screen TV to the Wake-Liberty game on ESPN3 streaming across my desktop computer I felt I was passing between two different worlds with two distinctly different versions of the game of basketball.
Now nobody paying attention expected the Deacons, in Danny Manning’s fourth season as head coach, to be on the Blue Devils’ level this season, especially not early on while absorbing the off-season losses of last season’s only two reliable big men, John Collins and Dinos Mitoglou.
That said, Duke is on Wake’s schedule, twice, and Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Louisville are each on there once.
But before Manning can even worry about the Blue Devils, Hurricanes, Tar Heels, Irish and Cardinals – all currently ranked among the top 18 teams in college basketball — he and his staff have to figure out a way to beat Georgia Southern and Liberty – at home. To give credit where credit is due, Wake did beat Division II Queens by two in an exhibition, but I know people who came away from that one not entirely certain if the Deacons could have held on without a fortuitous intentional foul called against the Royals in the final frantic seconds.
What I saw against Georgia Southern and Liberty was bad bad bad. Dare I say it, but it was Stetson bad, Presbyterian bad.
In other words, it was Bzdelik bad.
Making it all the more so was the Deacons, at 0-2, have lost at home to two run-of-the-mill teams in two distinctly different ways.
They lost to the Eagles 85-83 in the same manner they lost so often last season, by steadfastly declining to guard the opponent. Georgia Southern shot 50 percent in the final 20 minutes and scored on 20 of 34 second-half possessions.
Down the stretch, in money time, the Eagles scored on six of the last eight times they had the ball. Your mind begins to play tricks on you when you get to my advanced age, but I can swear I distinctly remember Manning saying the day he was announced as Wake’s head coach that his would be a program that hangs its hat on defense.
Watching last night’s 79-66 train wreck against Liberty closely, I noticed Wake actually stiffened up enough to get nine stops over a 15-possession stretch in the final 10 minutes. But after Chaundee Brown’s 3-pointer pulled the Deacons to 46-43 with 13:31 remaining, they tanked offensively and failed to score on their next seven trips downcourt.
And of course, for the game, they made only two 3-pointers on 17 heaves.
It’s hard to know what to expect from a team at the beginning of any season. I always thought preseason rankings were a foolish undertaking because, as I heard Mike Krzyzewski say once, no one has ever seen any of the teams play, and that includes the sportswriters doing the rankings.
These days, with so many coaches pulling the veil of secrecy down around their teams in preseason, it become especially difficult to foretell the next four and a half months of college basketball.
But, probably like you, I was wondering if Manning would get any immediate help inside from sophomores Donovan Mitchell and Sam Japhet-Mathias or rookies Olivier Sarr and walk-on Sunday Okeke.
I was wondering if junior Doral Moore had improved his stamina enough to play more than four or five effective minutes before needing a blow.
I was wondering that when Manning did resort to the four-guard lineup just who would get the rebounds.
Going over the checklist, I see where against Liberty, in a game the Deacons really, really needed to win, Mitchell played one minute, Sarr played nine, Okeke played four and Big Sam never got off the bench.
I see that Moore played 22 minutes, and played them well enough to make seven of eight shots for the floor and finish with 14 points and nine rebounds. But I also saw him in the second half huffing and puffing like me trying to climb two flights of stairs.
And over the first two games, I see where Bryant Crawford has four rebounds in his first 57 minutes and where Brandon Childress has two in 48 minutes. On the face of it, Keyshawn Woods 10 rebounds in 68 minutes and Brown’s 11 rebounds in 61 minutes don’t look all that bad, but the fact remains that the Liberty Flames walked into Joel Coliseum and outrebounded Wake Forest 39-28.
And eight times in the second half alone, the Flames missed the initial shot of a possession only to grab the rebound and put it back in.
The best I can say about Wake right now is that Terrence Thompson looks like he’s going to be a big help, that Brown is physically all he was advertised to be and that it’s still ridiculously early. But in listening to Manning’s post-game address to the media, I would concur on two points.
Wake, at this point, is not a good team. And come this weekend’s games in Lynchburg, the Deacons are going to find out what they’re made of.
The great fear, of course, is that we’ve already found out.