Being a head basketball coach in the ACC is a tough gig.
Not just anybody can do it.
Buzz Williams, I’m prepared to say, can do it. Of course the evidence was strong even before Williams took over at Virginia Tech in March of 2014, based on the run he had at Marquette.
With tonight’s 83-75 victory over Wake at Joel Coliseum, Williams’ Hokies are 13-4 overall and 2-2 in conference play. They made the NCAA last year, finishing 22-11 overall and 10-8 in the ACC. They made the NIT the season before that, finishing 20-15 overall and 10-8 in the ACC.
Williams had to dig out of a mess at Virginia Tech, and his first team finished 11-16 and 2-16. He has spent the last three seasons proving what he proved during his six years at Marquette, where the Golden Eagles made the NCAA Tournament five of those years.
The man can coach.
Danny Manning, hired at Wake Forest two weeks after Williams arrived in Blacksburg, may or may not prove to be ACC coaching timber. He’s now coached 112 games at Wake, and it’s still anybody’s guess.
The Deacons did make the NCAA Tournament last season, finishing 19-14 overall and 9-9 inside the conference. But with tonight’s setback, Manning’s fourth team at Wake Forest is 8-8 and 1-3 in conference play.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the Deacons are facing a murderous stretch during which they will play Duke twice, Virginia, Louisville, Florida State, Clemson and Miami – all over the next eight games.
I thought at the time that Ron Wellman, Wake’s director of athletics, took a flyer when he hired Manning in early April of 2014.
Yes, Manning had coached Tulsa to the NCAA Tournament the previous year, and yes he was one of the great players in the history of college basketball over the second half of the 20th century.
But he had only two seasons of head coaching experience, both spent at Tulsa. And close scrutiny of his time there shows that his first team was 17-16 overall, and his second was 10-12 in early February before getting hot in time to win 11 of its last 12 and finish 21-13.
So the case can be made – which I’m getting ready to make – that Manning was hired at Wake based on a six-week run at Tulsa. That and the fact he was one of the great players in the history of college basketball over the second half of the 20th century.
Tonight, the Deacons lost because they couldn’t exploit their size advantage inside. Virginia Tech has only regular taller than 6-6, and that one player, the 6-10 Kerry Blackshear, was limited to 21 minutes because of foul trouble.
There’s so much that goes into being a successful head coach in the ACC, and a big part of it is knowing how to use your personnel to its greatest advantage. And Manning has said repeatedly that a key to this season – and every season – will be the number of paint touches his big players get.
Tonight, playing against one of the smallest teams they’ll see this ACC season, Doral Moore had five paint touches in the first half and six in the second. He had none in the final nine minutes.
He did finish with 11 field-goal attempts, but had to crash the boards for six offensive rebounds to do so.
I watched the game, so I know how hot Brandon Childress got late. And I know Bryant Crawford followed two straight 3-pointers by Childress with one of his own.
But if anybody for Wake even took a look inside down the stretch, I missed it.
For Wake to beat Virginia Tech, that can’t happen.
Being a good coach isn’t good enough to make it in the ACC. To make it in the ACC, especially at places like Virginia Tech and Wake, it takes a great coach.
During his 112 games as Wake’s head coach, Danny Manning has shown no signs whatsoever of being a great coach.
I’m still looking, but I’ve yet to see it.