Manning, Deacons excited and relieved about NCAA tournament bid

Wake Forest is the No. 11 seed in the South Region bracket, with aFirst Four game against Kansas State schedule for 9:10 p.m. on Tuesday

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Wake Forest basketball coachDanny Manning reacts to a call during the second half of a game against NC Stateat PNC Arena last season

WAKE FOREST, N.C. — Danny Manning and his Wake Forest basketball team were confident that they’d done enough to earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 2010. The website gave the Deacons a 99.9 percent chance of getting into the field of 68.Still, the element of doubt still remained until the Deacons saw their name flash across the television screen on Selection Sunday.That finally disappeared when Wake was introduced as the No. 11 seed in the South Region bracket, with a “First Four” game against Kansas State schedule for 9:10 p.m. on Tuesday. It was an announcement that brought about a wide range of emotion from a coach with a national championship pedigree and a group of players about to experience the postseason for the first time.The Deacons are one of a league-record nine ACC teams playing in the NCAA tournament this year.”We’re excited. We’re relieved to see our name up there,” Manning said Sunday on a teleconference shortly after the good news was delivered. “I think all the hard work and adversity we’ve faced this year, it’s nice to see that rewarded with the opportunity to continue to play in the NCAA tournament. Now it’s about getting prepared as (quickly) as possible to face a very talented K-State team.”The adversity of which Manning spoke is a series of close losses in which his team squandered leads in the final minutes, including two against newly crowned ACC tournament champion Duke.The Deacons finally overcame their inability to close out games by winning seven of their last 11, including an upset of Louisville that enhanced their resume enough to put them on the right side of the NCAA bubble. They finished with a 19-13 record (9-9) ACC.As one of the final four teams into the field, Wake will have to win a game in Dayton to advance into the main bracket. The winner of Tuesday’s game will play sixth-seeded Cincinnati in Sacramento, Calif. ACC rival North Carolina is the top seed in the South Region.The Deacons haven’t played an NCAA tournament game since losing to Kentucky in the second round in 2010 in Dino Gaudio’s final game as coach. Even though his team barely squeaked into the field this year, current coach Manning said the opportunity to play in college basketball’s premier event is a major step forward for his growing program.”Whenever you’re coaching at a program, you always want to play in the NCAA tournament and we feel very fortunate and blessed to be a part of it,” Manning said. “Hopefully this is a step that we’re taking so that we’ll be part of this on a more regular basis. That’s always the goal.”We still have a lot of work to do and still a lot of improvement to do, but we feel like we’re moving in the right direction, no question.”This will be Wake’s 23rd NCAA appearance. It has a 28-22 all-time record in the tournament, including a trip to the Final Four in 1962.Manning previously took Tulsa to the NCAA tournament in 2014. He also led Kansas to the 1988 national championship, earning Most Outstanding Player honors on a team that has become known as “Danny and the Miracles.”While the NCAA experience will be new for the team’s current players, Tuesday’s opponent is a familiar one for Manning. He still has vivid memories of his rivalry with Kansas State while he was a player with the Jayhawks.”One of my first games at K-State, that’s a very heated rivalry, they were throwing live chickens at us,” Manning said. “I remember going in there and ducking some live chickens, also some not-so-live ones out of a KFC bucket or whatever.”Manning’s Deacons probably won’t have to worry about dodging chickens, either live or fried, but they will have to negotiate a quick turnaround to be ready to play on Tuesday — and then possibly again two days later 2,600 miles from home.”The logistics of it (are) that we’re eventually going to get there and play a game,” Manning said. “We came into this selection event ready to go. That’s all I can tell you. You really can’t worry about it because you can’t control it.”