Had a chance to do a short Q&A with Robert Reinhard over at SB Nation's excellent Wake Forest site, Blogger So Dear. Be sure to check in on them leading into the Panthers' next game this week.
Check out his answers to my questions below and head over there to see my answers to his questions a bit later.
After a couple of down years at Wake Forest, Danny Manning seems to have righted the ship a little. Are fans enthusiastic about what he's done there so far?
I would say fans are overall pretty positive about Manning. He definitely has his flaws, but seems to be improving on them, and is doing a very nice job of building the program. The vast majority of the team will be returning next year (Collins certainly up in the air), and has an excellent recruit in Chaundee Brown joining the team next year. He inherited a bad situation from Jeff Bzdelik, but has bounced back well. I'm excited to watch his growth and have been pleasantly surprised with the performance so far this season.
Sophomore forward John Collins has been a handful all year but has even stepped it up lately with 60 points in the team's last two games against Clemson and Duke. What are the chances of him leaving early for the NBA either this year or next?
Unfortunately I think they are pretty high. I have seen him around 15th or 20th for this upcoming draft on most mock drafts. He is still young for his grade (just turned 19), so hopefully he will stay for one more year. Wake will be very good next year if he returns, but I believe it's likely that he's gone after this season. I'd say it's almost a guarantee that he leaves by the end of his junior season.
Even at 15-12 and however unlikely that it may be for Pitt, there's still talk about sneaking into the NCAAs since they have three wins over ranked teams and a few more opportunities. Wake has had some very close losses against ranked Duke, North Carolina, and Xavier teams. The team seems really close to being an NCAA Tournament caliber squad. Are there similar hopes for Wake or are fans mostly looking to next year in terms of reaching the Big Dance?
Wake fans still believe that it's possible this season. Though the team is just 15-12, the Deacs are currently 30th in Ken Pom, 32nd in BPI, and 37th in RPI. They've been extremely close in your aforementioned games, and have been unlucky because their games against teams around 25th overall have been on the road. That said, Wake definitely blew some opportunities by blowing late leads against Duke and Clemson. Still, Wake has a lot to play for with games remaining against Pitt, Louisville, and a road trip to Virginia Tech. If Wake can win two of those three, and then potentially an ACC Tournament game, then they are absolutely right there. It will be interesting to see how the committee weighs advanced metrics vs. win-loss record.
One of the stories of Pitt's season has been a continued decline in attendance. That's happened over the course of the past few years when Pitt hasn't been as successful on the court. Has Wake Forest seen increased fan interest with their play this season?
Wake has definitely seen an increase this year, as it's Wake's best team since at least the 2009-2010 season. In fact, Wake's game against Duke was the first sellout since that same season. Wake fans went through some very rough years when Jeff Bzdelik was the coach, so being in NCAA Tournament contention again is extremely refreshing.
How do you see this game playing out?
I like Wake Forest in this one. The Deacs are one of the better offensive teams in the country and think they should be able to score fairly easily against Pitt. Pitt has definitely been playing better as of late, but I like Wake's chances at home in a game they really need.