CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Wake Forest ended another sad basketball season this afternoon, and now an uneasiness has settled in for the Demon Deacons.
Danny Manning walked off the floor at the Spectrum Center after Wake lost 79-71 to Miami in the first game of the ACC Tournament. And a lot of people speculated that it would be the last time he would coach a game for the Deacs.
Such is the mood at Wake Forest these days.
Manning’s fifth season at Wake ended at 11-20 for the second straight year. In the history of Wake Forest basketball, there have been five 20-loss seasons. Three have come in his five years in Winston-Salem.
Asked afterward whether he would be back next season, Manning was optimistic.
“That’s my hope,” he said. “That’s always the hope. You know, I feel I’ll be back.”
Wake went into the tournament having lost three straight games, seeded 13th after a 4-14 conference record and a week after the school announced an early change of athletics directors.
The announcement that Ron Wellman would retire May 1 and be replaced by John Currie, a Wake alum, seemed to stir speculation that a basketball announcement would follow.
Wellman said moments after the game that he would go through normal procedures of evaluating a season and a program but refused to say when that process would end .
“I’m the athletics director until May 1,” he said. “We always have evaluations right after the season. You know how this works.”
Wellman, and presumably Currie, will weigh options and do the math, which would involve a big buyout considering Manning was given a contract extension after the 2017 season that would pay him through the 2024-25 season.
Numbers have been bandied about, anywhere from $12 million to almost double that, speculation that has fueled rampant rumors of donors writing checks and school administrators demanding answers.
The truth is somewhere in between, and the numbers deal more with results than money.
Wake Forest is reeling from a remarkable roster turnover from a year ago, an offseason that saw eight players leave the program, all with eligibility remaining. Manning replaced the players with a good recruiting class and is in the picture for one of the top recruits in the country this year.
But the prospect of signing Oak Hill standout Cole Anthony seems unlikely, particularly with Manning facing an unknown future at Wake.
The numbers on the floor are stark also. Wake is one of the worst defensive teams in the country in a league filled with very good defensive teams. According to one statistical metric, Wake is rated 187th in the country in defensive efficiency.
Wake is also one of the worst shooting teams in the country against one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.
Houston Baptist, Richmond and Gardner-Webb dealt Wake Forest early-season losses.
Manning knew it was going to be a long season after the transfers gutted his roster and forced his freshmen to play from the beginning. He knew this season would be a total rebuild, a rarity after five years on the job.
“We threw all of our young guys out there to the wolves,” he said.
“We had some guys that grew a significant amount this year in terms of their growth from the start to the finish, and that’s how we want to build it,” Manning said. “We built it with young guys, and we had a really good recruiting class come in.”
Manning pointed out that he and Wellman are good friends and said he looked forward to working with Currie.
The future is once again up in the air. Another season is over, and a lot of things are suddenly swirling around the athletics department. But while Wake found out Tuesday its volleyball coach had been swept up in a national investigation into a scandal involving entrance exams, the only thing people are talking about now is basketball.
That’s the sport that really matters most at Wake Forest.
That’s the thing people most want addressed as yet another sad season comes to an end.