Anyone who has followed the ACC the last few years might find it hard to believe that at one time, Wake Forest was among the ACC’s standard-bearers. They might never imagine that the small school in Winston-Salem was pretty good most years and produced some good NBA players, including Tim Duncan and Chris Paul. Danny Manning has a tall order in front of him, but there’s a lot to like so far, and that included on Sunday.
Wake Forest has been very competitive this year despite its 5-11 mark in ACC play. In the opener, they gave Louisville all they could handle and could easily have won that game. They were right there with Duke in the next game and took Syracuse to overtime in the Carrier Dome. They broke through against NC State and Miami, then nearly pulled off a huge upset at Virginia. On Sunday, they took on a Pittsburgh team that needs to keep winning for its NCAA at-large hopes, and the Demon Deacons pulled out a 69-66 win.
The win came despite the Panthers out-rebounding them 43-28 and the Demon Deacons giving the ball away just five times less. Wake Forest was 9-20 on three-pointers and held Pittsburgh to 41 percent shooting, making up for letting the Panthers go 6-11 from deep.
More than the numbers, though, they came up big when they had to. They were down 61-57 with 4:11 left, then tied it less than a minute later and then completed a decisive 7-0 run with a three-pointer by Konstantinos Mitoglou. They never surrendered the lead after that, forcing three turnovers in the final minute.
The win on Sunday is further evidence that Manning can get the job done in time. It’s hard to believe that just over six years ago, they were at one time ranked at the top of the polls, brief though that was (they promptly lost their next game and never ascended back to the top). The Demon Deacons haven’t been the same since they strangely fired Dino Gaudio in 2010 after they made the NCAA Tournament and won a game. Following that, the hire of Jeff Bzdelik was mind-boggling save for the fact that he’s a long-time close friend of athletic director Ron Wellman, and it was a disaster. Manning has to pick up the pieces, and while there are a couple of good starting points in juniors Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas and freshmen Mitoglou and Mitchell Wilbekin, they need more than that.
In the era of conference realignment, it’s harder than ever for a program that’s been down to rise back up. A day earlier, a coach in a similar situation, Boston College’s Jim Christian, remarked, “There’s no miracle cures. If you look at the history of the ACC, nobody’s gone and turned it around in five minutes. It’s not going to happen.” It was a given that Manning wasn’t going to turn Wake Forest back into a champion this season. It’s clear, however, that he is making strides in his first season, and that’s a good start.
It’s been a challenging year for defending national champion Connecticut, but the Huskies got a big win on Sunday. In beating SMU 81-73, they got their biggest win of the season and also knocked the Mustangs out of first place in the American Athletic Conference. The Huskies are still going to need to win the conference tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament, but this certainly boosts them heading into the final week and ultimately the AAC Tournament, which will be in nearby Hartford. SMU, meanwhile, hosts Tulsa on Sunday with the regular season title likely on the line.
Wisconsin clinched a share of the Big Ten regular season title by holding off Michigan State 68-61 behind 31 points from Frank Kaminsky. Later, Ohio State knocked Purdue out of a tie for second by holding off the Boilermakers 65-61 in Columbus.
The Pac-12 had a busy slate a day after the big showdown in Salt Lake City. In what might be a bubble elimination game of sorts, Oregon beat Stanford 73-70 in Palo Alto, strengthening the Ducks’ at-large candidacy while dealing a big blow to Stanford’s. The Cardinal will still get a shot at Arizona on Saturday in Tucson, and they’ll need to take a page from BYU’s book and then win a game or two in the Pac-12 Tournament for a chance. Arizona State, meanwhile, lost 87-81 at Colorado, a blow to their slim at-large hopes, while UCLA clings to hope as they avoided a bad home loss by beating Washington State 72-67.
Providence made an 11-point halftime lead stand up in knocking off Marquette 77-66 behind another monster game from LaDontae Henton (25 points, 15 rebounds). As postseason award lists come out and Henton is nowhere to be found on most, one has to wonder how that is the case. The Big East Player of the Year should come down to him and teammate Kris Dunn.
The MAAC saw a surprise on its final day of the regular season, though it won’t matter as it pertains to the top. St. Peter’s knocked off regular season champion Iona 68-60 in Jersey City, but Iona ends up winning the conference by two games. Next weekend’s tournament in Albany is what matters most for the postseason, however, and that figures to be a good one as always.
Dwayne Polee did not play in San Diego State‘s loss to Boise State on Saturday night, but is expected back on Wednesday according to ESPN. Doctors detected abnormal readings in a heart monitor he has had surgically implanted in his chest, and was not cleared in time for the game. You will recall that he collapsed in a game against UC Riverside just before Christmas, and later diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. The school is playing it safe, but they expect he will be ready when they play UNLV in their next game.
Memphis may have to go the rest of the season without Austin Nichols, their leading scorer, after he re-injured his right ankle on Saturday against Tulsa. Nichols averages 13.3 points per game and is also second in rebounding at 6.1 per game
Washington has had a difficult season, one that started with promise but has turned ugly. But that doesn’t compare to news that hit the program on Sunday, as all-time scoring leader Christian Welp passed away at age 51. A three-time all-Pac-10 selection, he scored over 2,000 points in helping to lead them to three straight conference titles. He was drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft in 1987 by the Philadelphia 76ers and played three years in the NBA before winning nine championships in Europe.
The last Monday of regular season play is another light slate in terms of the number of games, but there are a couple of important ones among them.
- Texas gets another opportunity for a quality win as Baylor comes to town, but the Bears have been playing very well and the Longhorns may well be a strictly automatic team at this point. In a later Big 12 tilt, Iowa State hosts Oklahoma.
- In ACC play, Syracuse hosts Virginia, then later Virginia Tech hosts Boston College.
- In the SWAC, Prairie View A&M travels to Alabama State with a chance to play spoiler, as the hosts are a game back of Texas Southern, who travels to Alabama A&M.