It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season -- from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: Duke's latest wardrobe change.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski can seem like a pretty hard dude. There's the West Point background, the time spent under Bob Knight, the controlled sideline prowling, but there's also that glare -- the narrowed brow, drill instructor, are-you-bleeping-kidding-me-you-just-did-that glare. That glare has probably vaporized at least one disappointing guard in at least one 20-second timeout at some point during Coach K's career. We don't have a record of it happening, but how do we know Krzyzewski didn't vaporize the records, too, man? Open your eyes, sheeple. It's scary stuff.
And yet despite that face-melting generalissimo effect, one surprising quality underpins Coach K's decades of success: stylistic flexibility.
We've covered this before. Great coaches typically live and die by their systems. Knight treated zone defense like an affront to his manhood. Syracuse icon Jim Boeheim wouldn't play man against Grinnell. You won't see Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers break the 70-possession barrier anytime soon.
Coach K, on the other hand, changes his style whenever his personnel warrants it. These aren't week-to-week tweaks; they move roughly as fast as Krzyzewski's personnel changes. But they're there: Per Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency metrics, the spread-floor Blue Devils averaged 73.0 possessions per game in 2007-08, 16th-most in the country. Two years later, Duke won a national title averaging 65.5 trips per game, good for 249th. The changes are not limited to pace, either. K will drastically redraw his team's offense, installing new sets to fit new lineups, whenever the facts on the ground call for it.
The 2013-14 season is one of those times.
This spring, Duke waved farewell to seniors Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, all crucial contributors. With hyper-touted recruit Jabari Parker and top transfer Rodney Hood joining up, sharpshooter Andre Dawkins returning from a personal year away from the team, and a perfect talent-experience backcourt in Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, the Blue Devils might actually be more talented.
But it's not the level of talent I care about, because I don't care if Duke is better or worse than in 2012-13. It's the kind of talent. And the talent Coach K has at his disposal now is the kind of talent in which 73 possessions a game might be the best possible way for Coach K to maximize all of it. Krzyzewski has hinted as much already, telling reporters this offseason that he was adapting the offensive style employed during his time with USA Basketball -- when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love would routinely share the court -- for repeat use in Durham. That style, at least on paper, would both accentuate Duke's strengths (perimeter-oriented scoring) and minimize its weaknesses (deep-post frontcourt depth). It makes perfect sense.
It's hard not to picture a starting lineup of Cook, Sulaimon, Dawkins, Parker and Hood playing beautiful, athletic, crisp, up-tempo, spread secondary offense. It's even harder to avoid squealing at the thought. For all of the other intrigue in the ACC this season, for how good Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame will make the league, the chance Krzyzewski might flip the aesthetic switch up to 11 -- win or lose -- is too good to miss.