Black and Gold Path of Least Resistance

For all the comings and goings during Danny Manning’s four-plus seasons at Wake – and lately those going have been doing so at an alarming rate – one constant remains.

The Deacons can’t defend, or at least they can’t do so well enough collectively to be more than fodder to those good teams lucky enough to play them. Such was the case in Year One of Manning’s run at Wake, and such is the case at the start of Year Five.

Manning’s counterpart, Phil Martelli of St. Joe’s, had plenty of reason to feel good going into the Myrtle Beach Invitational. His daughter gave birth to Martelli’s grandson and his Hawks were afforded the Path of Least Resistance into the semifinals of the tournament.

A Path of Least Resistance is what Wake has been since the day Manning arrived, and that’s what the Deacons were again today in a demoralizing 89-69 thumping. Whether it’s advancing in a tournament or climbing one more step toward the top of the ACC standings, few teams provide less resistance than a Wake team coached by Danny Manning.

This one was more demoralizing than so many that came before because of all the optimism around the program going into the season.

You know #newbeginnings, and all that.

The Deacons did, after all, add highly-regarded freshmen Jaylen Hoard, Isaiah Mucius and Sharone Wright, Jr., and Manning and his staff were coming off a full season of coaching up promising sophomores Chaundee Brown and Olivier Sarr.

Yet over the first 10 minutes of the second half – while the Hawks were scoring on 14 of 20 possessions to blow a tie game wide open – the brand of basketball being played by the Deacons looked for all the world like the same old same old we’ve all been watching for the past four years.

We saw it all once again, hot shooters shooting wide-open shots, drivers driving straight-line to the basket for layups, cutters cutting off ball screens to find nobody between them and the basket.

Over my seasons since retirement, I watch Wake basketball with a pad in my hand, and tally how many possessions opponents get and how many times the Deacons stop them from scoring. Even with counting the three St. Joe’s possessions after both coaches emptied their bench – the Hawks scored on 38 of their 68 possessions.

They scored on 19 of 35 in the first half, and 19 of 33 in the second. But they made their greatest hay midway through the second half by scoring on seven straight possessions.

Not until the damage had already been done, and St. Joe’s was looking forward to its next game in the tournament, did Wake stop the Hawks twice in a row in the second half. And not until the coaches emptied the bench did the Deacons stop St. Joe’s more than twice in a row.

The season-opening 90-78 victory over North Carolina A&T was fun, in that we got to see Hoard and Mucius finally put their considerable athletic talents on display in a college setting, and had reason to wonder just how good Wright, Brown and Sarr might be. But alarm bells had to go off when the Aggies shot 46 percent from the floor and 42 percent from 3-point range, while being forced into just eight turnovers.

Then comes today, when the Hawks shoot 52 percent from the floor and 53 percent from beyond the arc and score 89 points while committing just eight turnovers.

Hoard and Mucius are good offensive players, and they’re going to fill a high-light reel for the season. Brown looked good in the first half, before pulling his all-to-familiar disappearing act in the second.

But can the Deacons beat anybody good when their starting center, Sarr, plays 22 minutes and gets only one shot – a 3-pointer he drilled from the top of the key?

Throughout my career, I resisted making snap judgments, and I continue to do so today. It’s a long season, and all that. Nothing is static in life. Everything is dynamic, in a state of flux.

Maybe today was a case of early-season jitters, and maybe the Deacons will come out and romp through the next two games of the tournament. I’d like to think that’s the case, and might even succeed if what we saw today didn’t look so much like what we’ve all seen so many times before.

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