Easy pickings are hard to come by in a conference as fast and competitive as the ACC.
That’s why Mike Brey is the latest coach to thank his lucky stars for the opportunity to face Danny Manning.
Brey is one of seven current coaches who have never lost to Manning in conference play But he certainly should have lost yesterday, when his Notre Dame Irish trailed Wake Forest by nine with eight minutes to go on a sunny faux spring day in Winston-Salem.
Brey’s strapped, injury-battered team looked for all the world like it was dead in the water. The Deacons, getting a fond farewell performance from senior Mitchell Wilbekin on Senior Day, appeared to be sailing to their second straight victory and third in four tries.
Then Wake’s rudder snapped and the Deacons spent the final eight minutes whirling wildly out of control.
Which raises the question: Since the days a transplanted Hoosier named Richard Crozier introduced basketball to the school in 1904, has Wake ever played a more rudderless stretch of basketball as they played in the final eight minutes of yesterday’s 76-71 setback?
I’m sure it has, but sitting here still ruminating over the totality of yesterday’s collapse, I can’t for the life of me remember when.
A hairline crack first appeared when Bryant Crawford took a what-the-hell 3-point heave from way out above the key with five seconds remaining on the clock. It missed, as did Keyshawn Woods’ contested step-in jumper from the right wing on the next possession.
Woods had Doral Moore open in the post, but passing to Doral Moore in the post doesn’t seem to be this team’s thing.
Instead the Deacons specialize in jacking threes, as they did five more times in the chaotic final minutes. Olivier Sarr thought he’d try one, and missed. Brandon Childress got two good looks from the left corner and missed both. Crawford got a pretty good look from the same spot and missed.
Not to be left out, Chaundee Brown launched one from the left wing and missed.
Then came the two crushing turnovers that sandwiched Matt Farrell’s dramatic 3-pointer to beat the shotclock – the one on the pass from Crawford that caromed off Woods out of bounds that came before and Childress’ ill-fated attempt to bounce the ball off an Irish defender afterward.
Speaking of Childress’ ill-fated attempt to bounce the all off an Irish defender. The officials needed how long to get the clock straight? Had to be five minutes, right? It was after that delay that Manning called a timeout. His last timeout.
Childress, when he couldn’t get the ball in from the sidelines against the 6-10 Marinas Geben, had to do something,
Wake had no timeouts remaining.
Not once during the collapse did Wake dump the ball into the post for a shot. Not once did Crawford, Childress, Woods or anybody take it to the goal.
Wake has a coach. Standing in front of the bench at 6-10, he’s hard to miss. But over the final eight minutes yesterday he was missing in plain sight.
Les Johns, my buddy from Demon Deacon Digest, asked afterward if the Deacons relied too heavily on the 3-pointers at the end.
“There were times I would have liked for us to drive the ball,’’ Manning said.
And then he complained about the officials.
“But, you know, Crawford got to the paint quite a few times and didn’t get a chance to get to the free-throw line because they never called a foul for him,’’ Manning said. “And I thought he got bumped a few times for sure.’’
Manning was also stewing over the snafu at the end, when the clock didn’t start after Farrell’s game-winning shot. Manning said his team wanted to get the ball and go, but the stoppage forced the Deacons to inbound from midcourt.
The clock should have started on time, so Manning did get a bad break there. And perhaps Bryant Crawford was fouled a time or two and didn’t get the calls.
But given how heavily Wake contributed to its own demise, to blame the loss on a clock operator or Jamie Luckie, Raymie Styons and AJ Desai comes off as a weak sauce.
Brey is now 5-0 against Manning. The other six current coaches who have never lost to Manning in conference play are Roy Williams (4-0), Mike Krzyzewski (8-0), Brad Brownell (5-0), Tony Bennett (5-0), Kevin Keatts (2-0) and David Padgett (1-0).
Of Manning’s 21-54 record against ACC competition, seven of the victories came against coaches no longer in the league. Manning had reason to mourn when State let Mike Gottfried go. Manning was 4-3 against Gott.
To be winless in four years against the likes of Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski and Tony Bennett is disappointing, but somewhat understandable. Williams and Krzyzewski are Hall-of-Fame coaches and Bennett appears on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory.
But how can anybody coaching Wake in basketball explain being unable to beat Brad Brownell or Mike Brey?
Brownell and Brey are good coaches, but what does Clemson and Notre Dame have going for in basketball that Wake does not?
And yes, all year long I’ve been hearing about the terrible break Manning got when John Collins and Dinos Mitoglou bolted over the offseason. After yesterday, I really don’t want to hear it anymore.
Here was a guy, Brey, who lost the preseason ACC Player of the Year, Bonzie Colson, to a broken foot before conference play began. And he lost his best backcourt player, Farrell, for five games during the heart of conference play, to an injury.
It’s modern college basketball. Injuries happen. Attrition happens. That’s why the NCAA allows a program to stockpile 13 scholarships.
When Colson and Farrell came up lame, Brey reached down his bench to find Geben, a Lithuanian who averaged 1.6 points as a freshman, 1.4 as a sophomore and 3.1 as a junior.
This year he’s averaging 11.1. And yesterday he torched Wake for 22 points and 14 rebounds, matching his career best for points.
And Brey also reached down his bench to find John Mooney and Nikola Djogo and Elijah Burns, all of whom had played bit roles – at best — before this season. All of them made plays yesterday to help Mike Brey beat Danny Manning for the fifth time in five tries.
I ask again. What does Clemson and Notre Dame have going for it in basketball that Wake does not?
After yesterday, the answer became ever more obvious.