Wildcats to face Demon Deacons, ex-Jayhawk Manning
Danny Manning was well aware he and his Wake Forest squad were going to sweat out Selection Sunday.
He wasn’t worried about the opponent or destination. All he cared about was landing a spot in the 68-team NCAA field.
So being sent to Dayton, Ohio, to meet fellow No. 11 seed Kansas State on Tuesday in the First Four is just fine with Manning.
“If we had to hop on a plane right now, we’re ready to go,” Manning said after the Demon Deacons made the field for the first time since 2010. “You really can’t worry about it because you can’t control it.”
The worrying commences now as the Demon Deacons (19-13) and Wildcats (20-13) clash to see who advances to Friday’s first-round game against sixth-seeded Cincinnati in South Regional play at Sacramento, Calif.
Manning certainly is highly familiar with the opponent. The star player who led Kansas to the 1988 national title was the target of barbs and taunts whenever the Jayhawks visited the Wildcats.
“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.”
The Wildcats can relate to why Manning was anxious about landing a bid because they were in the same situation.
Kansas State placed sixth in the Big 12 and reached the 20-win mark, but the possibility of being passed over remained a real concern.
“I was probably the happiest in the room,” senior swingman Wesley Iwundu said. “It is a big-time accomplishment for me, my teammates, and for the seniors to go out on this note. We are not done yet, but we are happy we are in the NCAA Tournament. We are ready to do some things.”
Iwundu averages a team-best 12.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and is one of four double-digit scorers.
Sophomore guard Barry Brown averages 11.7 points, sophomore guard Kamau Stokes is at 11.6 with a team-best 58 3-pointers, and senior forward D.J. Johnson averages 11.2 points while recording a team-best 49 blocked shots.
The NCAA tourney appearance is Kansas State’s third in five seasons under coach Bruce Weber.
It is also the most rewarding during Weber’s tenure as expectations were low for this season’s Wildcats.
“This is simply staying the course and staying positive and staying after it and believing,” Weber said. “It is your goal every year to be in the NCAA Tournament. We were picked ninth in the league beforehand, but we finished ahead of that prediction.
“I think we went into the Big 12 tournament and showed very well. Now can we make it a special season and do something here in the NCAA Tournament?”
Manning snapped Wake Forest’s tourney drought in his third season at the school.
The Demon Deacons have a budding star in first-team All-ACC selection John Collins, a sophomore forward who led the team in scoring (18.9 points per game), rebounding (9.8 boards per game) and blocked shots (52).
Sophomore point guard Bryant Crawford averages 16.1 points and 5.4 assists, while sophomore guard Keyshawn Woods contributes 12.8 and 3.5 assists.
Even with that trio, Wake Forest finished in 10th place in the ACC, and that prompted concern.
“We didn’t fare as well as we would have liked,” Manning said. “We came up short in some games that we played, but I think that that adversity helped us down the stretch of our conference without question.
“We would have liked to have gotten a few more wins in the ACC tournament, but obviously, we did enough to extend our season by one game.”
Tuesday’s contest is the first between the programs.