Danny Manning had a rough first season at Wake Forest this year. After an 8-6 start, the Demon Deacons lost 13 of their final 18 games to finish 13-19.

Still, Manning, who was hired last April, is extremely optimistic about the future.

“I’m excited,” Manning said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “I feel very fortunate and blessed to be at Wake Forest. I grew up in the area. I spent most of my childhood in Greensboro, North Carolina. So to be at Wake Forest, an ACC school 30 minutes away from where I grew up, I’m excited and very happy about it. We got work to do. I think we’re moving in the right direction – not as fast as I would like, but things are improving. I’m excited about the class we have coming it. I think they’ll also help the direction we want to go and we’re just going to continue to build and grind. (I’m) at a great place with great people, and I’m very happy.”

Because he coaches in the ACC, Manning is of course familiar with No. 8 NC State (22-13) and No. 4 Louisville (26-8) – two teams that will square off in the Sweet 16 this Friday at 7:37 p.m. NC State won at Louisville, 74-65, on Valentine’s Day.

“I think it’s going to be a very good matchup,” said Manning, who went 1-2 against NC State and Louisville this season, with the win coming against the Wolfpack in February. “Louisville is a team with great length and great athleticism, and they really have a huge impact on the game defensively. I think NC State is a very talented offensive team. I think Trevor Lacey is one of the best tough-shot-making guards in college basketball. And (Ralston) Turner shoots the ball exceptionally well. Cat Barber is playing well.

“On the other side,” Manning continued, “I think (Terry) Rozier is a catalyst to Louisville’s team because of the way he handles the ball and his imprint on the game. And then defensively, I think Montrezl (Harrell) in that back line plays with so much energy and passion that he has a huge impact on the game defensively. So that’s going to be a great matchup. NC State’s a talented team, and we all know Louisville is one of the best in the country.”

Manning also faced Duke this season, losing 73-65 on Jan. 7 and 94-51 on March 4. The No. 1 Blue Devils (31-4) face No. 5 Utah (26-8) this Friday at 9:45 p.m. ET.

“Just a very, very good team,” Manning said. “Obviously they’re well-coached with Coach K. He’s done a great job. He’s a Hall of Famer. But it’s pick your poison, to be honest with you. Are you going to go down and double the big fella, (Jahlil) Okafor, in the middle and allow those shooters to roam free and knock down shots? Or are you going to stay attached to the shooters and let Okafor have his way with one or two bounces in the post? He’s a handful with his soft hands and his good footwork.

“You go into the game and you’ll have a game plan, but like all coaches, you’ll switch it up from time to time and see what’s working and what’s not working,” Manning continued. “Duke is shooting the ball well. Those freshmen are really good. But to me, the key has been Quinn Cook. Quinn Cook has been a solid piece for them. He’s shooting the ball exceptionally well. He’s making good decisions, and he’s being a great leader his senior year.”


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