Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that in the modern game of college basketball there are only two reasons for a coach to play as much zone as Wake played in Tuesday night’s 71-67 victory over No. 17 N.C. State.

One is by design. Go the Syracuse route and recruit enough active, long-armed players to make the zone a real pain in the posterior to face.

The other is by necessity. Play zone because your man-to-man presents no more impediment than a busted turnstile on the Green Line.

Danny Manning, by lineage, is a man-to-man guy. He said so when he became head coach at Wake to the surprise of no one who knows his background at Kansas – one of college basketball’s most staunch man-to-man programs.

But desperate times call for desperate measures and Manning has seen the need for this, his fifth team at Wake, to be a zone team. Good for him. Something had to be done as the Deacons sunk ever lower in rankings of defensive efficiency and shooting percentages and point totals of the opponents continued to soar.

And if he can find a few more teams that attack the zone as poorly as N.C. State did in the first half last night, he might even win a handful of ACC games in this – again – his fifth season as the Deacons’ head coach.

I’ve been really impressed with what Kevin Keatts has done in his first two seasons as the Wolfpack’s coach. He’s one of many examples why it doesn’t always take three, four, or even five seasons to turn the fortunes of a program around.

But I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why he didn’t get more grips on his team in the first half last night when Wake packed its zone back and just dared N.C. State to heave it up from outside. Not until halftime – by which point the Pack had missed 13 out of 14 3-pointers to fall behind by as many as 22 points – did Keatts get his message across that the way to beat Wake is to take the ball to the hoop.

N.C. State took the ball to the hoop after the break and roared back into contention, scoring on 13 of the first 19 second-half possessions to tie the game at 58. If you were like me, you probably thought Wake’s goose was cooked. But to the Deacons’ considerable credit, they showed enough grit and fortitude to get six straight stops in winning time and make the plays needed to pull out their first ACC victory over.

Yeah, I know. Markell Johnson, probably the Pack’s best player, missed the game with a back injury. But my position is and has always been that you play with and against who is available. Once you start factoring in the impact of an injury you’ve entered the hazy, slippery realm of conjecture.

Say Johnson had been available, and was as bad against Wake as he was against North Carolina, when he 1-for-7 from 3-point range with five turnovers? We’ll never know, so it’s useless to speculate.

The team Danny Manning put on the floor beat the team that Kevin Keatts put on the floor, and that’s all that matters. And he did so by out-coaching Keatts. His strategy of playing a compacted zone worked.

And maybe you also noticed that with the Deacons clinging to a 67-66 lead, Manning called timeout and hustled Torry Johnson into the game for Sharone Wright, Jr., and that it was Johnson who not only sank the runner but also nailed the two free throws with 13 seconds left to all but clinch the victory.

Manning also showed flexibility on offense with a lineup that had freshman Jaylen Hoard essentially playing center for key stretches. Hoard was certainly up to the task, finishing with 16 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals for a stat line that would have done Josh Howard proud.

Danny Manning hasn’t had all that many good nights as head coach at Wake, but he had one last night. Good for him.

Now if he can just carry that momentum into the next two games at Virginia Tech on Saturday and at Virginia on Tuesday.

And maybe, just maybe, he can pack his zone back into the lane and tempt Buzz Williams and Tony Bennett to allow their teams to launch one brick after another from 3-point range.

If there’s another way Wake can escape falling to 1-5 going into the Jan. 26 home game against Boston College, perhaps you can see it.

Because I certainly can’t.

Wake Basketball: Who Cares?

One of the most significant figures of Wake basketball was sitting courtside today at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavillion for the Deacons’ all-too-predictable 92-79 bellyflop into ACC play.

And sitting next to him was John Collins.

The commentators for the Fox Sports South telecast, my good buddy Wes Durham and analyst Cory Alexander, made much to do about Collins, and how well he’s playing his sophomore season for the Atlanta Hawks and how he visited the Deacons’ locker room for a halftime pep talk.

But truth is, Collins, the first and only Wake player to make first-team All-ACC since Chris Paul’s sophomore season of 2004-05, has presently done what he could do for the Deacons’ basketball fortunes. And it will be all he can do until he decides he has made enough money to plow some back into Wake’s basketball coffers.

It was the man sitting next to Collins who had a much bigger impact on the dire straits the Deacons find themselves, and, more important, what they intend to do about it. If you know Mit Shah, it’s probably by name only, the name that will adorn the $9 million showplace of a basketball complex being built as we speak on campus.

Shah is a 1991 graduate of Wake who walked on the tennis team, before taking on the world and winning hugely as a hotel magnate rich enough to donate more than $7 million to his alma mater. He’s also a minority owner of the Atlanta Hawks.

Shah was one of the influential boosters behind the hiring of Danny Manning before the 2014-15 season. And I, for one, won’t hold that against him. There were plenty of people at the time who thought the hiring of one of the great names in the history of college basketball was a gamble worth taking.

Yet I just had to wonder what was going through Shah’s bright mind as he watched the Deacons stumble to a pretty cut-and-dried loss to a Tech team picked to finish one spot ahead of them at 13th in the ACC preseason predictions. Surely, by now, he has concluded what is obvious for anyone to see.

Danny Manning is not the answer to the bottomless doldrums Wake finds itself in. If he were, we all would have seen that long before now.

Instead, what we saw today was a team that handled the ball like it was radio-active and played the kind of defense that would shame an over-40 team at the local Y. We knew Wake had a bad team. We saw just how bad today, and we’ll continue to see it as the meat-grinder of an ACC season grinds on.

The Yellow Jackets came into the game shooting 45 percent from the floor against a less-than-robust nonconference schedule and scoring 71 points a game. Wake played some man, it played some zone, and it pressed, none of which kept Tech from shooting 56 percent from the floor and scoring 20 points more than its average.

But final tally and shooting percentage only begin to tell the sad tale of where Wake basketball is today. As I’ve mentioned many times, I watch from home these days with a pad on my lap charting number of stops the Deacons get on defense – because I’ve long-since concluded porous defense is their most pressing and longstanding problem.

I actually had to check my figures with the play-by-play from the Wake Athletics website to make sure the Deacons’ defense was as abysmal as I had charted. Turns out it was worse.

Georgia Tech crossed midcourt with the basketball 42 times in the second half, and either scored or got fouled (or both) 29 times. And once the Yellow Jackets got to really rolling, there were rarely stopped.

The headline from the official Wake website says the Deacons’ rally fell short (I know, I know, whoever is responsible has to write something), but it’s hard to rally when the opponent is scoring every time down. Tech scored or got fouled (or both) the last nine times it had the ball, 13 of the last 14 times and 15 of the last 17.

The pattern I’ve noticed as that the Deacons’ defense gets more and more porous as the game wears on, which explains why Wake is as good a bet as any to finish dead last in the ACC – in Danny Manning’s fifth season as head coach.

The rank-and-file fans have been wise to the dumpster fire consuming their once proud program, but the problem is, any and all protestations are falling on deaf ears. Best anyone can tell, the man most responsible for the plight of all Wake athletics, Ron Wellman, simply no longer cares.

Wake can finish 12th, 14th, 10th and 14th in the ACC under the same coach while players leave in droves and the program is relegated to irrelevance, and what does Wellman do?

He extends Manning’s contract.

There’s been a report floating around for some time from Jeff Goodman of ESPN that Manning’s contract will run through the 2024-25 season and that its fully guaranteed to the tune of $18 million.

When asked, Wellman fell back on the usual dodge provided him by Wake’s status as a private institution.

“We do not comment on contract details,’’ Wellman said.

I ask you as fans of Wake basketball. Why do you care? What are you supposed to think when the current coach is losing game after game, and the man who hired him is not even commenting on reports that said coach is under contract through 2025?

Ron Wellman doesn’t care what a grizzled old sportswriter writes on his personal block after his retirement, nor should he.

On the other hand, Ron Wellman, by not addressing the current contract status of Danny Manning, is showing that he doesn’t care what you as the rank-and-file fan thinks.

But I am wondering what Mit Shah, a Wake trustee and CEO of the Noble Investment Group, is thinking along about now.

Because I know Ron Wellman cares about what Mit Shah is thinking.

He has around $7 million reasons to care.

Two Programs Headed in Opposite Directions

Wake sports, or at least the two Wake sports that mean much of anything to the rank-and-file among us, were on full display Saturday, front-and-center for all America (and for that matter, all the world) to see.

And what all America (and for that matter, all the world) could see by tuning into ESPN and ESPN2 was two programs heading in decidedly different – some might say opposite – directions.

On the Mothership, we could see one of America’s scrappiest teams coached by one of America’s scappiest coaches, doing what needed to be done in a most heroic and improbable fashion to beat Memphis 37-34 in the Birmingham Bowl. To watch Dave Clawson will his team to an unprecedented third-straight bowl victory brought to mind the highest compliment one coach could ever bestow on another.

In the immortal words of Bum Phillips, Clawson “could take his’n and beat your’n, and then he can turn around and take your’n and beat his’n.’’

I’ve always loved that quote (spoken in respect of Bear Bryant) because it reminded me so much of the way my Papaw Collins of Waynesville, N.C. used to talk – before he died.

And if that was all there was to see from Wake yesterday, it would have been a golden moment for the black and gold on national (international) television.

Sadly, any satisfaction (not to mention pride) in what is taking place at Wake sports-wise these days has to be tempered by what could be found just next door on the Deuce, where the Deacons’ basketball team was getting steamrolled by Tennessee 83-64.

There’s no shame in losing on the road to the No. 3 team in the nation, or at least there wouldn’t have been if the loss had not come in such a predictable and unequivocal fashion. But what those of us who switched over to the Deuce saw was what we’ve seen so many times before, with the Deacons melting right before our eyes.

As mentioned a number of times, I watch Wake basketball these days with a pad in my hand to chart the Deacons’ defensive stops.

And Wake was right there, trailing only 22-21 after Torry Johnson’s layup with 7:25 left in the first half.

That was before the soggy bottom of Wake bag broke open and the Volunteers scored on nine of their final 11 possessions of the first half and nine of their first 11 possessions of the second half. It’s along about that time that analyst Jimmy Dykes made a comment as astute as it was obvious.

“From Wake Forest, there’s not a lot of resistance right now on defense.’’

It’s a quote to be clipped and saved, for it sums up up so succinctly the Danny Manning era of Wake basketball. For the second half, Tennessee scored on 23 of the 34 times it brought the ball across half-court.

The difference in the state of the two programs can be boiled down to two words – hard and soft.

Clawson is a hard coach to beat. He played Memphis yesterday without his best player (Greg Dortch) and with a third quarterback (Jamie Newman) who was filling in for a second quarterback (Sam Hartman) who was filing in for a first quarterback (Kendall Hinton).

And he won when the guy filling in for Dortch (Alex Bachman) caught two clutch passes from the guy filling in for Hartman and Hinton in the final 75 seconds.

He won when his team kept playing hard enough to overcome an 18-point deficit.

He won because that’s what good coaches do.

Good coaches win.

By now anyone paying attention can see that as far as football coaches go, Dave Clawson is a keeper. The question now becomes how long can Wake keep him?

Meanwhile, over on the Deuce, the word that kept coming to mind was soft. If there’s a softer team than Wake playing in the ACC these days, I don’t know who it would be. And the Deacons just happened to be going up against one of the most physically mature teams in college basketball, and the results were not a pretty sight.

Olivier Sarr, the great hope in the middle, played as soft as he has been playing since showing up before last year, with just one field goal, two free throws and three rebounds to show for his 25 minutes. But we all knew that about Sarr long before yesterday.

What was particularly sobering was how soft Jaylen Hoard, the supposedly next great star, played for all the world to see. Hoard contributed three rebounds and seven points in 25 minutes while somehow managing not to get himself hurt down there amid the rough and tumble of major-college basketball.

Danny Manning got blown out of another game on national television because that’s what bad coaches do.

Bad coaches lose badly.

Ron Wellman, who calls the shots at Wake, is apparently willing to stick with his bet that a bad coach at sometime after four seasons will turn out to be a good coach. But by now, who can believe him?

And whereas Mike Norvell of Memphis was the latest to realize that Dave Clawson is not a coach to be tangled with, I’d imagine there’s no end to the number of basketball coaches who would relish taking on Danny Manning.

Take Brad Brownell of Clemson, for instance, who is 5-0 in his chances at beating Danny Manning in ACC play.

Can you imagine Dave Clawson being 0-5 against any ACC coach not named Dabo Swinney?

If so, that makes one of us.

For Wake, Exam Break Time Well-Spent

Back when Wake was a team to be reckoned with in the ACC, a home victory over Davidson would be nothing to email or text home about.

Of course that was so long ago, folks were still writing letters.

Not really.

It just seems that way.

Many seasons have passed since Wake was a team to be reckoned with in the ACC, which made tonight’s 67-63 victory over Bob McKillop’s Wildcats its best effort of the season.

Yeah, I know Davidson was playing without its best player, Kellan Grady, a second-team All-Atlantic 10 guard averaging 19.4 points. But it’s always been my contention that a team plays with who’s available, no excuses. And I’ll remain consistent by saying Wake took a nice step tonight, Grady or no Grady.

Dave Odom always loved exam break, because it gave him a chance to go back to basics and correct all the mistakes from the season’s first brace of games. And it certainly appeared tonight that Danny Manning put the 11 days since the Deacons last played to good use.

The defense – the Deacons’ most glaring shortcoming over Manning’s four seasons – was really, really good tonight. Or at least it was until it wasn’t. The Wildcats closed the game by either scoring or getting fouled (or both) on their last seven possessions, and 10 of their last 11.

But over the first 36 minutes, while they were building a 14-point lead, the Deacons were downright suffocating on defense. By my count, Wake got 18 stops on Davidson’s 28 first-half possessions, and then came back out and stymied the Wildcats on 15 of their first 26 trips across half-court in the second half.

Davidson shot 37 percent from the floor for the game, made seven of 24 shots from beyond the arc and got to the line for only 12 attempts.

That’s a showing against a good team that Manning will take any time, if he can get it. The biggest reason he’s failed in his four-plus seasons to turn the program’s fortunes around is that he has got that kind of showing so few times.

The late-game largess has become so routine as to be predictable. But the Deacons were able to overcome their generosity tonight because they kept scoring themselves.

As I’ve mentioned, I watch games these days with a pad in hand, charting Wake’s defensive stops. But over the 11 days since the Deacons last played, I decided to also keep tabs on another problem that has saddled Wake in the early going.

After every loss, it seems, Manning has decried his team’s inability to get enough paint touches. Teams assemble these days during the first semester of summer school, back in May, so if six months later a team is not doing what the coach wants, then whose fault is that?

But for tonight I decided to also chart the possessions that Wake got the ball either to the basket, into the lane, into the key or in the short corner along the base line. All teams strive to break down the defense, because it opens up so many more ways (foul shots, follow shots, kick-out jumpers) to score.

Bad teams – and Wake would certainly qualify over most of Manning’s tenure – tend to settle for jump shots without making the defense work. We’ve all seen the Deacons lose games because they quit getting the ball inside, and we’ve all heard Manning grumble about it later.

My bet is that another major point of emphasis over the past 11 games has been to be more aggressive on offense and attack the defense more. If so, the concentration on that facet of the game paid off tonight.

Again, by my count, the Deacons got the ball inside on 28 of 34 first-half possessions, and on 29 of 37 possessions after halftime. The ball moved, and so did the players, allowing Wake to shoot 48 percent from the floor, get to the line for 20 attempts and mount a balance attack.

On a night no player took more than 12 attempts from the floor, Jaylen Hoard (16 points), Brandon Childress (16 points), Chaundee Brown (13 points), Torry Johnson (10 points) and Olivier Sarr (8 points on 4-of-5 shooting) all had offensive games they could feel good about.

Those who have found me at My Take on Whatever know I’ve been pretty critical of Manning and his inability to pull the once-proud Wake program from the doldrums of the Jeff Bzdelik years. And I’m not about to declare after one nice victory over Davidson in mid-December that the Deacons have turned the corner.

A much more telling test will come Saturday when Wake travels up I-40 to Knoxville to face Rick Barnes and his third-ranked Volunteers of Tennessee. If the Deacons show the same improvement at Thompson-Boling Arena, then I’ll begin to wonder if maybe Manning is finally building something worth watching at Wake.

Of course it’s been so long, it might be hard to recognize. But we’ll see, and we’ll all see together.

Welcome Aboard

It would be terribly remiss of me to not acknowledge and thank all the folks who have found their way to My Take on Whatever these past few weeks.

And heaven forbid it be said that Country Dan Collins has ever even once in his 66 years on this planet been remiss. I shudder at the thought, wondering just how I could sleep at night.

So thanks from the bottom of my heart, and welcome aboard. To expand the circle means more fun for everybody.

Upon launching this blog a little more than year ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what I intended to do with it other than write about whatever interested me at the time I was writing it. But I had just retired after 40 years spent writing sports for the Winston-Salem Journal, and I did know I get off on writing too much to just stop.

And I don’t have the patience, discipline and focus to write all those novels I was so bent on writing “One of these days.’’ So I decided to go with the next-best thing.

One of my many close friends from our Thursday night gatherings for Open Mic at Muddy Creek Cafe is a wise soul named Nancy Burney Douglass. And in this case, NBD knew me better than I knew myself.

“Most people blog their way into a career in journalism,’’ she observed. “Well, you’re blogging your way out.’’

Bingo.

No singer-songwriter has been covered more than John Prine over our 4 ½ years of making music the way it’s meant to be made among friends down at Open Mic at Muddy Creek. And that’s a good thing. No complaints here.

On Prine’s latest offering, Tree of Forgiveness, there was a couplet that really hit home, off the tune Lonesome Friends of Science.

I live way down inside my head,

Well, long ago I made my bed.’’

John Prine and I share the same address, but I’m not so deep inside my head not to know what has driven so many of you my way. That would be the anguish and utter despair over the demise of a once-proud basketball program at Wake.

And some of you might even know I was on hand to chronicle so many of the golden moments in the history of Wake basketball, from the time I was assigned to the beat in 1992 until my retirement in August of 2017. There was a time when I was known to brag to anyone who would listen about having the best college basketball beat in America.

Sadly, those times are long gone, buried beneath the rubble of losses to Stetson, Winthrop, UNC Wilmington, Presbyterian, Wofford, Delaware State, Georgia Southern, Liberty, Houston Baptist and – as recently as last night – a Richmond team so bad that Chris Mooney will have to hustle like hell to survive his 14th season as the Spiders’ head coach.

Losing at Richmond wouldn’t be so devastating except for three reasons. One, this is, again, a really, really bad Richmond team, bad enough to lose – AT HOME — to Longwood (63-58) and Hampton (86-66). Two, the loss was just so utterly predictable for a team so disjointed and hapless as to be a team in name only.

And three, and most important, the yet-one-more ignominious setback came in Danny Manning’s FIFTH season as head coach. Not his first, not his third, but his fifth, when he has had all the time any coach worth his mettle would need to rectify whatever problems were left over from the program-crippling hire of Jeff Bzdelik on that fateful day in April of 2010.

Along the way the link to My Take on Whatever surfaced on enough sites on social media – Demon Deacons Sports Nation on Facebook, DemonDeaconDigest and that mother lode of all Wake sites, Old Gold & Black Boards — that my number of hits exploded exponentially.

The number exploded from the 50 or so hits I was lucky to get on a good day to where two recent posts have roared past 2,000. I recognize that’s small potatoes in the greater blogosphere of the Interweb, but it’s one big fat spud for this old grizzled retiree sitting on his ever-widening behind in his cluttered den out in Oldtown.

And, again, it’s greatly appreciated, as are the comments flowing in from one and all.

What I hate, for you as well as me, is that I couldn’t be writing about the stirring success of a Wake program battling back from the doldrums into ACC and national contention. I hate that the hire of Danny Manning hasn’t worked out. I really do. He was a great player, and seems to be a decent man – though I have to admit I was never really given the opportunity to get to know him.

But an explanation I always had for those who found fault with my coverage of Wake sports came in three words. Cause and effect.

If Manning was 7-0 right now instead of 4-3 against one of the weakest schedules in school history, if Manning were 52-20 in the ACC instead of 20-52, if Manning had ever finished better than 10th in the regular season, if Manning had really followed through with his promise of making defense the strength his program would hang its hat on, then my thesaurus wouldn’t have enough nice words for me to write about the man.

Which leaves me having to write what’s going on, and what’s going on is Wake keeps losing season after soul-crushing season in basketball and those who have a say in the matter have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they don’t care enough about their ever-dwindling core of fans to do anything about it.

And to me, that’s what’s really sad.

Lest you newbies get the wrong idea, my blog is not devoted exclusively to Wake sports. Again, I write about whatever interests me, and my interests are wide and varied.

My deepest passion is music, which has resulted in the aforementioned Open Mic sessions down at Muddy Creek Cafe. And although I have been writing sports forever – since my junior year of high school, going on 50 years ago — I’ve been writing songs even longer.

All my life I’ve threatened to record a CD of original songs, and I’m proud to say I am, at present, finally making good on that threat. I’ve enlisted a sharp young engineer, musician and recent graduate of Wake named Geoff Weber (He of the band Bad Cameo, hottest thing going) and we’re laying down tracks at his home studio that I’m increasingly excited about.

For those interested, I’ll keep you apprised of the progress, and make sure you have a chance to listen to how it comes out.

What I don’t want to do is spend all my retirement taking a metaphorical cudgel to Danny Manning’s kneecaps. Honest I don’t.

But if I didn’t write what was going on, what reason would anybody have to read anything I write? And if nobody read what I write, that would be sadder than Wake losing to Houston Baptist in basketball.

Well, almost.

Wake: A Program in Exile

By the time I retired from writing for daily newspapers in August of 2017, I had long since concluded that no story should ever be written about any coach in any sport at any time in the history of that sport without at least a fleeting reference the Grand Disclaimer of All-Time.

Which is:

A coach who wins often enough can do no wrong.

A coach who loses often enough can do no right.

If Wake was 75-58– and more to the point, 52-20 in ACC play – over Danny Manning’s four-plus seasons as head coach, it would matter little that Manning was hired after a run of six good weeks during his second season at Tulsa.

It would matter little that because of his guarded, some might say aloof nature, he has forged little to no connection with the media or fanbase.

It would matter little that he has yet to answer (that I’ve heard) any question asked him with any specificity or detail.

It would matter little that Manning at least appears to lack the fire in the belly of a Chris Mack or a Buzz Williams or a Jeff Capel or a Roy Williams or a Mike Kzyzewski or a Kevin Keatts or, for that matter, most any of his of his fellow coaching brethren.

And I don’t even think it would matter all that much that five players with eligibility remaining voted with their feet, by departing the program in search of greener pastures since last season.

But the cold hard facts of life for that ever-dwindling core of Wake fans who have yet to give up on the program are that Manning is not 74-56 and 20-52 in ACC play over his four-plus seasons as Wake’s head coach.

Manning, instead is, 58-75 and 20-52.

And because he loses and loses often, all the above questions and criticisms do matter, and they matter greatly.

And what matters even more is that in Manning’s fifth season as head coach his team is losing at home to one of the worst teams in all of college basketball, Houston Baptist. What matters even more is that in Manning’s fifth season as head coach, his team is extended into the final minute to beat another of the worst teams in college basketball, Western Carolina.

Again, at home.

What matters even more is that during a three-day period when the rest of the ACC is either coming off, playing or getting ready to play games in the vaunted ACC/Big Ten Challenge on packages televised across the globe, Wake is playing at home against Western Carolina in front of 3,500 gluttons for punishment.

As my man Evan Lepler mentioned during the play-by-play streaming on ACCN Extra, Wake was in exile from the ACC last night. Pitt, the only team picked to finish below Wake this season, was making a damn good showing in a 69-68 loss at 14th-ranked Iowa. N.C. State gave Wisconsin all it wanted at one of the toughest places to win in all of college basketball, the notorious Kohl Center. And Louisville was giving ACC foes a glimpse of what to expect under Mack by knocking off No. 9 Michigan State.

All while, once again, Wake is barely beating Western Carolina at home in front of 3,500 gluttons for punishment.

Has there ever been a time when Wake’s ties to the ACC – at least in the flagship sport of basketball – felt more tenuous?

Looking for some explanation, some reasonable alibi or justification for what I had just watched on ACCN streaming, I checked out Manning’s post-game address on Les Johns’ Demon Deacon Digest. Since retirement I’ve gotten really good at wasting time.

Asked if he was surprised to to find himself in a game late after leading 21-3 early, Manning’s answer was “that’s college basketball.’’

Well that’s not college basketball as played at SMU, which beat Western Carolina by 33. That’s not college basketball as played by Jacksonville State, which beat Western Carolina by 31. That’s not college basketball as played at Arizona, which beat Houston Baptist by 30. That’s not college basketball as played at Wisconsin, which beat Houston Baptist by 37.

But it is college basketball as played at Wake in Danny Manning’s fifth season as head coach.

The one rationalization Manning was quick to mention was the inexperience of his fifth team at Wake Forest.

“We’re a young team,’’ he said. And then he repeated it.

What he didn’t mention is that Bryant Crawford, Doral Moore and Keyshawn Woods had, among them, played a combined 247 games at Wake, and all had eligibility remaining. All were bragged on time and again by Manning during their career at Wake, and yet all chose to play this season elsewhere – Crawford in Israel, Moore in the G-Leage and Woods as a highly effective grad transfer at Ohio State.

Yes Wake is young, again. And there’s a reason Wake is young, again.

But is there any reason Danny Manning is still head basketball coach at Wake Forest?

If so, I’d love to hear it.

Clawson Wills Deacons to a Bowl

Hiring decisions, like elections, have consequences.

Or so I seem to remember reading somewhere recently.

In the 12th game of Dave Clawson’s fifth season as head football coach at Wake, the Deacons overcame more than enough injuries to scuttle a lesser team, the loss of one quarterback to suspension and another to injury and the unsettling cashiering of a defensive coordinator a third of the way through the season to stomp Duke into the rain-soaked turf of Wallace Wade and become bowl eligible for the third-straight season.

Watching the Deacons saddle up running back Cade Carney and ride him to today’s 59-7 drubbing of an ancient rival brought to mind what I heard about how Clawson came to be hired at Wake, and how desperately he wanted the job.

As the story goes, Athletics Director Ron Wellman dispatched Mike Buddie, then his right-hand man, to Bowling Green to get a read on this guy named Clawson, who was fresh off coaching the Falcons to a MAC Championship.

Clawson sits Buddie (who today is director of athletics at Furman) down at his kitchen table and won’t let him leave until he had laid out in infinite detail the plan he had to make Wake a consistent winner in the ACC. The interview, as I recall hearing, lasted into the wee hours of the morning.

And when Wellman made the decision to hire Clawson over Pete Lembo of Ball State, Clawson could not get over his luck.

“I really wanted to be at Wake Forest,’’ Clawson said. “The second this job opened, I was dreaming that I was at a podium talking to all these reporters.

“I want to be here. This is a great place, and I think we can achieve great things.’’

Clawson arrived at Wake hungry, with something to prove. And what he has been proving these past five seasons is that Wellman followed one grand-slam hire in football – that of Jim Grobe – with a second straight.

Dave Clawson willed this team to a bowl in one of the great coaching performances I’ve witnessed in my 45 years as a sportswriter.

As I wrote earlier, commission the statue, and pay the man whatever is required to keep him. He’s earned every bit of it.

The Wake team that was getting hammered by Notre Dame (57-26), Clemson (63-3), Florida State (38-17) and Syracuse (41-24) had no business playing in a bowl. But Clawson would not settle for anything less, nor would he allow his team to settle for anything less.

So Wellman, the man most responsible for the demise of a once-proud basketball program, was prescient enough in another sport to hire the school’s two best football coaches since the advent of the ACC in 1953. How could one man get it so wrong, twice in a row, in one sport, and so right, twice in a row, in another?

The difference between Danny Manning and Dave Clawson could not be more obvious after a weekend in which Wake followed in a 24-hour whirl one of the worst losses ever in basketball with one of the best ever in football. The difference between Manning and Clawson is that one is hungry, the same one who has spent a life proving himself.

In 1988, Danny Manning was the best player in college basketball, the toast of the sport. He could have moved to Timbuktu after leading Kansas to the National Championship, never to be heard from again, and he would forever remain a legend.

In 1988, Dave Clawson was a defensive back for Williams College, a Division III school in Williamstown, Mass.

Over the subsequent 15 years, while Manning was making millions playing in the NBA, Clawson was clawing his way up the coaching ladder, from graduate assistant at Albany, to secondary, running backs and quarterbacks coach at Buffalo, to running backs coach at Lehigh, to offensive coordinator at Villanova, to head coach at Fordham, to head coach at Richmond – and following an ill-fated season spent as offensive coordinator at Tennessee – to head coach at Bowling Green.

He remained hungry, and he arrived at Wake hungry. If I had to guess, he’ll be hungry all his born days.

Nobody becomes as good at anything as Manning was at basketball without the requisite drive and determination. And Manning showed that in his rise through high schools and college, and he definitely showed that while overcoming one crippling injury after another to carve out an NBA career.

But when he decided to take up coaching, and returned to Kansas at the bottom rung, he did so because he wanted to. If you see hunger in Danny Manning, that makes one of us.

Dave Clawson doesn’t coach because he wants to. He was born to coach.

Dave Clawson doesn’t win because he wants to. Dave Clawson wins because he has to.

He’s too hungry to lose.

Realizing early in my life that I’m not management timber, I never had to make any hiring decisions. But if Ron Wellman were to ever ask me what he should look for in hiring a basketball coach at Wake, I’d say go with the hungriest coach he can find.

At Wake, nothing else will suffice.