College Basketball Nation: Mike Krzyzewski

Duke shaking off emotional fatigue

February, 4, 2015
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DURHAM, N.C. -- The Duke hangover is what they call it.

Normally, it happens to teams that beat the Blue Devils. First comes the high of beating a team that has been ranked in the top five of the Associated Press poll all season, a team led by an iconic coach that seemingly gets a new celebration each week for breaking some kind of record.

Then comes the lows of losing the very next game played. NC State beat Duke, then lost to North Carolina. Miami won in Cameron Indoor Stadium then lost at Notre Dame. Notre Dame beat Duke then lost at Pittsburgh.

Duke has always seemed to be immune to emotional fatigue, although it didn't look that way Wednesday night in its 72-66 win over Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets looked like anything but the ACC's last-place team. They never led in the second half but never trailed by more than seven points, either. Maybe it should have been expected after the week the Blue Devils just endured.

[+] EnlargeDuke/Georgia Tech
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesAfter an emotional week, Duke found a way to win against Georgia Tech.
"Virginia win, that's a huge win. Now you have to do it again," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who surpassed North Carolina's Dean Smith as the winningest coach in ACC play. "I didn't think we were emotionally at the level we needed to be. Not that our kids weren't ready to play, but they couldn't get that level of emotion."

It started with losing at Notre Dame. Then, they took another dip when junior forward Rasheed Sulaimon became the first player ever dismissed by Krzyzewski. And they had to prepare for a road trip to league-leading Virginia with the thought that a fourth loss might end their regular-season title hopes.

It was one head-spinning week.

"I can remember coming back from the Virginia game like, 'Man, I have the biggest headache ever just from everything that carried on that week,'" sophomore Matt Jones said. "You don't expect weeks like that, but you have to take the punches as they come."

Sulaimon might have come across as a malcontent whose dismissal was no surprise to outsiders, but to the Blue Devils, he was a brother. He was the kind of player who would bring levity when needed. They could compensate for losing his absence in the lineup, but losing his presence in the locker room wasn't so simple.

It's partly why junior forward Amile Jefferson said the win over Virginia was so big. It showed maturity for a team depending on four freshmen in a rotation that's now down to eight players.

"Our guys have handled every situation we've been in with a lot of maturity," Jefferson said. "Coming off a loss going to Virginia, we took what we needed and we learned from that loss and we came away with a win because we have a lot of fight and a lot of heart and we never gave up."

The Blue Devils can't afford to give up, not with a rematch against No. 10 Notre Dame on Saturday, two games remaining with rival No. 12 North Carolina and another two games against a Syracuse team that no longer has a postseason to play for and might find extra motivation against ranked teams such as Duke.

Krzyzewski said the ACC can be "unforgiving," especially with the schedule the Blue Devils play, and it's not always easy to reboot when they've been worn down mentally.

The players are depending on him to find a way to do it.

"We just try to rely on Coach K as much as possible," Matt Jones said. "Coach has been through a lot of situations. He knows what to do. He knows what he's talking about. As players, it's been everybody's first time going through this."

ESPN's Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology projection placed the Blue Devils with a coveted No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament after their Virginia win. To stay on that top line, not to mention compete for the ACC title, they've got to keep winning games. That includes the ones that won't be so easy to get up for, such as Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia Tech.

That's why Krzyzewski was encouraged by the way Duke responded in the second half against the Yellow Jackets. In a game in which they clearly weren't at their best, they found a way to win. And that is ultimately what will help them the rest of the way.

"It wears on you, but to be able to win a game in this manner, that's what keeps you afloat and gets you tournament ready," Krzyzewski said. "We've still got a number of games until we are tournament qualified. This was another step closer to doing that."

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Maybe the ACC is as deep as originally advertised.

It may not have the kind of depth that's going to set a record for bids to the NCAA tournament, but it is looking more like a league whose eventual regular-season champion will have to take a few losses along the way.

"No matter if you're at the top of the league or the bottom of the league, every team in this conference has a lot of pride and they're going to fight you," Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. "They have nothing to lose. Wake pushed us to the edge."

Wake Forest led Duke with less than six minutes left in the game -- something not even No. 4 Wisconsin could manage -- and is the only team this season to come within single digits of the Blue Devils in their 73-65 loss.

This is the same Wake Forest squad that didn't put up much of a fight when it lost by 30 to Arkansas in November. But Duke was warned before playing in the ACC's oldest series, which dates back to 1906: The Demon Deacons pushed No. 5 Louisville on Sunday before falling 85-76.

"Doesn't matter what record a team has. There's no night off, especially on the road," Duke senior guard Quinn Cook said. "Our upperclassmen obviously know it from suffering a loss here last year."

Look around the league and there were similar results. Clemson had a halftime lead on Louisville -- on the road -- before eventually losing 58-52. NC State led in the second half on the road at No. 3 Virginia before the Cavaliers pulled out a 61-51 win.

The new look, 15-team ACC and its four Hall of Fame coaches may not be the mega-conference juggernaut it was billed to be in the preseason. The top of the league is as heavy as expected with Duke, Virginia and Louisville all ranked in the top five. They've all given reason to be considered Final Four contenders.

The teams in the middle and lower tier didn't win the marquee nonconference games that would have bolstered the league's argument as the nation's best. In fact, most of them suffered bad losses. But those teams are now confirming they have a lot more fight than they've previously shown.

That was the message Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski tried to get across to his team, especially his three starting freshmen, before playing Wake.

"Playing at this level of intensity in a conference game on the road is something that they had not experienced," Krzyzewski said. "We won a huge game at Wisconsin, and that's not the same. I'm not saying Wisconsin is a bad team; they're pretty good. There's a sense of urgency with every ACC game that you can't manufacture. You have to experience it."

Take Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets lost to USC Upstate in December but nearly came out of South Bend, Indiana, with a win on Saturday. No. 14 Notre Dame needed double overtime to survive. The Jackets lost another heartbreaker Wednesday to Syracuse on a go-ahead free throw with 12 seconds left.

Duke junior forward Amile Jefferson doesn't believe it's not an exception. He said we're seeing the rule of life in the ACC.

"Our league has a lot of pride, a lot of history. When teams come in -- no matter what their record was before our conference -- it means a lot more," Jefferson said. "Especially when you're going into other people's houses. They're playing for their family, their friends and they're playing with a spark. If you don't come out with that same edge and that same fire, then they get confidence. In the ACC, it's tough no matter what the team's record."

Mike Krzyzewski 'coaxes' Duke to win

December, 19, 2014
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Mike Krzyzewski wanted his players to run something called "51."

Apparently, they did not.

That inspired the Duke coach to do a little multitasking. He asked the official if he might use one of his timeouts, while simultaneously jabbing at the air as if the oxygen had done something truly offensive, before turning what would make a withering glare wither toward his players.

"They were out to lunch," Krzyzewski said, explaining why he asked for the break just 41 seconds into the second half of Duke's game against Connecticut. "They were in la-la land."

That wasn't exactly how the coach described the locale to the Blue Devils. A few ducks were involved, or at least a word that sounded an awful lot like "ducks," from the seats behind the huddle.

It was a vintage Krzyzewski rant, a squinty-eyed, red-faced bit of brimstone that is as much part of the coach's fabric as his jet-black hair.

Except this season, it was a first. Duke played 380 minutes, 41 seconds of basketball before the Blue Devils met their maker.

That's how good they have been. They have reduced the competitive, tightly wound, wildly demanding Krzyzewski into a sedentary bystander, reserving his ire merely for his good buddies, the fellas in black and white stripes.

He was a little ticked after Duke's game against Elon, but not so much that he had to call a tirade TO, as he did here.

"He lit into us pretty good," freshman Justise Winslow said, smirking to underscore the understatement.

Now for the kicker: The diatribe worked beautifully. The Blue Devils broke the huddle, their tails collectively between their legs and their egos tossed into the garbage can, and proceeded to go on a 14-2 run.

UConn, a team with a 4-4 record that belies how tough it is, would threaten again, but never overcome, that sprint as the Blue Devils won 66-56.

Now, it should come as no surprise that Krzyzewski, a man on the heels of his 1,000th win, should know when to hail 'em and know when to assail 'em.

What's most telling about all of this is how these particular Blue Devils responded. It's true they are freshmen, but being a freshman isn't terribly unique anymore. There are rookies in key roles everywhere in college basketball.

No, what's different here is that these particular freshmen had made it all look so easy. They opened the season with a decisive win against Michigan State, and two weeks later went to Wisconsin and left with a 10-point win.

Heading into the game against UConn, Duke was beating its opponents by an average of 26.9 points per game.

Outside of that game in Madison, Wisconsin, against another team with Final Four aspirations, the Blue Devils hadn't really broken a sweat.

"The upperclassmen, we've been on teams that went to the Elite Eight, that lost in the first round," senior Quinn Cook said. "The younger guys hadn't really been in a dogfight."

And then, along comes UConn. The Huskies' quickness, mostly in the form of Ryan Boatright (he of the Kemba begat Shabazz begat Ryan lineage) forced 19 turnovers; and their zone, swarming Jahlil Okafor, helped limit Duke to just 37.5 percent shooting for the game.

Technically, UConn led for only seven seconds in the entire game, but Duke just couldn't put the Huskies away. When Krzyzewski called that timeout, the Huskies cut the Devils' lead to just one.

So what did the wide-eyed freshmen think of their first Krzyzewski undressing?

"It was encouraging," Winslow said. "He only does that because he believes in us and has confidence in us."

"I'm glad it happened," Tyus Jones added. "We can't accept mediocrity. We can't be OK with making mistakes. He expects perfection from us, and we need to expect that, too."

After Duke looked less than inspired against Elon -- despite winning by 13 -- Krzyzewski challenged his team to not be normal.

Normal teams, he explained, struggle against Elon after an exam layoff.

Great teams don't.

He knows of great teams. He's had a few.

And he knows he's got a great one here. Krzyzewski isn't playing this one close to the vest or tempering expectations for fear of another Mercer NCAA tournament debacle. He has said from the get-go this team is special and that his freshmen are far from ordinary.

Normal, then, isn't acceptable. Normal is the equivalent of complacency.

Normal is how the Blue Devils looked 41 seconds into the first half, and normal is what inspired Krzyzewski to unload.

"Sometimes, with a team -- especially a young team -- they can get a little annoyed with how hard a team is playing against you," he said. "UConn was playing very hard against us. When that happens, you have to play just as hard. So I was a little annoyed with them. But they responded, and that's a sign of a really good team."

Or a great one.

At least not a normal one.

Duke's analytic advantage keeps growing

December, 16, 2014
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In October 2013, the Duke Blue Devils became the first college basketball program to install SportVU cameras in both Cameron Indoor Stadium and team practice facilities. In the past few years, SportVU's high-speed cameras, which track player and ball movements 25 times a second, turning everything that happens on the floor into a quantifiable statistic, have revolutionized NBA front offices. But the Blue Devils are the only college program to install the cameras specifically for its own use (Marquette has them, thanks to its shared home with the Milwaukee Bucks)*, and the only club anywhere with the cameras hooked up during practices.

So, after a year-plus spent compiling SportVU data, how has the Blue Devils' approach changed?
Statistics acquired through SportVU can be tailored to a team’s needs. In its second year of use at Duke, the staff is still exploring the possibilities. “We’re getting more of an understanding of what we’re seeing,” says [Duke basketball director of information technology Kevin] Cullen, a former team manager who graduated from Duke with a degree in computer science in 2007. “I think we understand better what they’re presenting and how to use it.”

“It’s amplifications of principles that I think are generally true,” Cullen says of SportVU data. “Some of them are surprising. None of them are earth-shattering. None of them are going to win the game.”

Those quotes, given to the Raleigh News & Observor's Barry Jacobs on Monday, should either make Duke opponents very happy, or slightly worried. The right response depends on how coy you think Cullen is being.

[+] EnlargeJahlil Okafor
AP Photo/Karl B DeBlakerThe Blue Devils are learning how best to play around center Jahlil Okafor.
On the one hand, it's not like Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski wasn't a fan of watching film before. And it's certainly true that SportVU information doesn't necessarily alter the fundamental things coaches have demanded for decades. Box-outs, well-set screens, timely rotations, deflections, the extra swing pass -- the quantification of these concepts is new, but the concepts themselves are not. If you're an opposing coach, you are free to take some solace from this. So what, right? We track stats, too.

On the other hand, this goes beyond a raft of graduate managers tracking between-the-box-score plays on the sidelines, scribbling marks on a clipboard for every missed transition pass or slow close-out. Duke is the only school in the country employing military-grade camera hardware in games and practices. Its staff is the only one in the country able to sort the ream of information those cameras produce with algorithms that stretch far beyond what the human eye can see. This is a competitive advantage. Possibly a major one. And if you were Cullen, and you presided over the lone SportVU implementation in your entire sport, would you be openly share the details of that implementation? No, you wouldn't.

Besides, it's not like the Blue Devils are analytical revanchists. Cullen offered Jacobs one notable example of advanced stats in action. In helping Duke's perimeter players understand the best way to play off center Jahlil Okafor -- who on Monday night became the first freshman in Duke history to put up a 20-point, 20-rebound game -- the Duke staff used shot breakdowns to hammer a simple point home:
“I think coaches for years have always tried to coach good and bad shots by their players. And one of the more simple things is the catch-and-shoot three versus a 3-pointer off the dribble,” Cullen explains.

The Blue Devils made 42 percent of their catch-and-shoot 3-pointers (51-121) in their first seven games, all wins. Given that only 42 long-distance tries were created off the dribble – with 28 percent accuracy – it appears the lesson sank in. “You try to look at where you can be your best,” Cullen says. “That’s one area that we’ve made a conscious effort to improve.”

You don't need missile-systems lenses to tell you this. Synergy scouting breakdowns -- eagerly in use at dozens, if not hundreds, of programs across the country -- would more than suffice. But this one example tells you what you need to know about Duke's philosophy on the topic at large.

Coach K doesn't need numbers to tell him what a good shot is. But if he can back up instruction with tangible numbers, why wouldn't he? If you have the information, why not use it? Cullen might not be making his SportVU work public, but it's a safe bet he's applying it. Meanwhile, the sample set is only getting larger. Day by day, game by game, practice by practice, the information gets more useful.

So, yeah, if you're an ACC coach, go ahead and add "potentially massive data advantage" to your list of Duke-related concerns. Slot it in just behind "loads of NBA talent" and "a coach nine games away from his 1000th career win." As if Duke wasn't scary enough already.

*Update: Louisville basketball has also installed SportVU cameras in its home arena, the Yum! Center, though not in its practice facility.
Drop a pebble in the water; just a splash and it’s gone;

But there’s half a hundred ripples circling on and on and on,

Spreading, spreading from the center, flowing on out to the sea.

And there’s no way of telling where the end is going to be.

-- James W. Foley

Tom Butters won’t even pretend he knew the ripple effect he would create when, 34 years ago, he hired a little-known Army coach coming off of a 9-17 season to be Duke's next basketball coach. Aside from admitting to a "gut feeling" that the young, relatively inexperienced man sitting in front of him was the right man for the job, Butters won’t take any credit for the decision, either.

Yet as we examine the what-ifs of college basketball this week, Butters’ brazen option -- naming Mike Krzyzewski head coach at Duke in 1980 -- surely goes down as perhaps the smallest pebble that made the biggest splash in the sport.

Butters’ trust in his gut has spawned a career that includes 983 victories, four national championships, four gold medals and international recognition not only for a university but also for a guy whose surname has as many Z's as vowels.

[+] EnlargeMike Krzyewski
AP Photo/Nell RedmondMike Krzyzewski has plenty to smile about now, but his first three years at Duke weren't quite as rosy.
But the question isn’t so much the obvious one: What if Butters hadn’t hired Krzyzewski? Or even all the ramifications included: Would Duke have any national titles? Would we have The Shot, or even know who Christian Laettner is? What of the Cameron Crazies? Would anyone slap a floor on defense? With no Krzyzewskiville, would there be any other InsertCoach’sNameHere towns, boroughs, hamlets or other campout sites?

No, the real question is: What if Butters had hired Krzyzewski three years ago instead of in 1980?

And what if Krzyzewski had gone 38-47 in those first three years, as he did in his coaching infancy at Duke? Would Butters have kept him aboard or would Krzyzewski, like so many present-day coaches with comparable records, have been fired?

“Even in those difficult times in the first three seasons, I not only knew I had the right man, but I knew I had to keep him," said Butters, who retired in 1998 after 20 years as Duke’s athletic director.

It looks and sounds simple now, what with the hindsight paved by Krzyzewski’s exemplary résumé.

But it wasn’t then.

Though they lacked the public-venting forum of social media, the critics nonetheless squawked plenty at Butters.

“I was inundated," he said. “Oh my gosh. It was not the easiest of three years that I spent in the business. Everybody had an opinion. They wanted him gone and me gone because I was the idiot who wanted him in the first place."

Yet Butters stood his ground, firm in his belief that he made the right call.

“Would I have kept him now? Absolutely," Butters said. “In my opinion, there are those who don’t fit, and it’s not anyone’s fault -- it just isn’t a good fit. And there are those who are a good fit. A good fit is a good fit."

Think about that. How many college athletic directors can afford to think that way anymore?

Besieged by big-money donors, potential big-money profits in NCAA tournament appearances, a 24-hour news cycle and social media’s endless barrage, ADs have a much harder job now than Butters did then. Even if their guts tell them they have the right man, how many can take the risk to keep the right man, if the right man doesn’t win immediately?

No one wants to wait for a system to be built or a culture to be cultivated.

People just want wins and fervor and Madness. They want it instantaneously, and Godspeed to the AD caught in the crossfire, his or her job on the line alongside the guy with the whistle.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the coaching roadkill from this, the Era of Impatience:

  • John Pelphrey, Arkansas, fired after four years, 69-58
  • Darrin Horn, South Carolina, fired after four years, 60-63
  • Tony Barbee, Auburn, fired after four years, 48-75
  • Steve Donahue, Boston College, fired after four years, 54-76
  • Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest, fired after four years, 51-76

Some of those will turn out to be good decisions, some bad and some a push.

And certainly no one is saying that the next Mike Krzyzewski is on the list, but the point is, Krzyzewski wasn’t Krzyzewski in 1983. He was a 30-something, ex-Army coach with a name that no one could pronounce, let alone spell.

Yet Butters kept him on, and in Year 4 Duke went 24-10 and made the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils have missed the tourney just once since, when Krzyzewski was out because of back surgery in 1995.

“I think," Butters said, “it’s worked out pretty well."
video Editor's note: Over five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 4: Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. On Wednesday, we will release No. 3.

Sometimes, when a career is especially lengthy or especially brilliant or both, it's easier to understand it by carving it up into arbitrary chunks.

Here's one such chunk: Since 2006-07, the Duke Blue Devils have won exactly one regular season ACC title. In six of those eight seasons, Duke failed to progress past the Sweet 16. In three of those seasons, they lost their first NCAA tournament game. In two of the past three years, they've been sent home right away, by a No. 15 and No. 14 seed, respectively.

This is -- if you choose to look at it this way -- the most fallow period in Duke hoops history since Coach K's first three seasons, 1980-91 to 1982-83, when the young former Army coach was still laying the relevant groundwork. By the mid-'80s, Duke was already getting dominant. After back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992, the program was officially lofted into the college basketball firmament.

Here's another arbitrary chunk: From 1997 to 2006, the Blue Devils won seven ACC regular-season titles. They appeared in three Final Fours. They won one national title. They averaged 30.4 wins per season. They were, more than any program since John Wooden-era UCLA, omnipresent.

It is only in this context -- held next to the remarkable decades that preceded it -- that you could call Coach K's past handful of seasons "subpar."

To continue reading this story, click here.

3-point shot: Potential rules changes

May, 21, 2014
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Andy Katz discusses Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim's thoughts on the 30-second shot clock experiment and the NBA draft age limit, as well as Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins eventually succeeding Boeheim.

3-point shot: Louisville-Kentucky

March, 26, 2014
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Andy Katz discusses the huge crowd expected for the Louisville-Kentucky game, the travel issues stemming from the tournament and Coach K's desire for some extra attention to seeding.

Duke anticipating much-needed break

February, 25, 2014
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DURHAM, N.C. -- Since Feb. 15, Duke has played more games than the Los Angeles Lakers have, and the Lakers don’t have to return to a campus for class.

The Blue Devils capped off a five-game, 11-day stretch with Tuesday’s 66-48 win over Virginia Tech. Now, even though only two games remain in the regular season, Duke needs a breather. It was evident when the Blue Devils took the court for warmups before playing the Hokies.

"When we came back in [the locker room], the coaches got us pretty good because we didn’t look like we were ready to go out there and fight," forward Rodney Hood said. "We’ve got to be prepared for that. In the ACC tournament, you can play three or four games in three or four days, so it’s no excuse to be tired. I think it’s taxing on us, but we have to be ready and get rejuvenated for the next week."

While the Blue Devils refresh physically, it will also finally give them time to reflect inward. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he’s spent so much time preparing for opponents, he could use some time to look at his team before making a postseason push.

"We’re always preparing for another team, so you don’t take as good a look at you," he said.

Duke will get a week off before facing Wake Forest on March 5. Senior guard Tyler Thornton said that he’d never experienced anything like the grueling stretch that included emotional games against Maryland, Syracuse and North Carolina.

[+] EnlargeDuke
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsRasheed Sulaimon and Duke looked sluggish offensively against Virginia Tech, shooting only 38 percent.
Sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon admitted fatigue was a bit of a factor, as Duke shot just 38 percent against the Hokies. They’ll get plenty of rest the next two days, with Krzyzewski saying the team will have only a short meeting on Wednesday and take Thursday off before returning to practice on Friday.

"After this stretch we have off, hopefully, we’ll have our legs back where we can start knocking down those shots like we were in the beginning of the year," Thornton said.

Krzyzewski said he’d take a second look into his rotation. Sulaimon has started the past four games in place of Quinn Cook at point guard, and it appears he’ll stay in the starting lineup.

Krzyzewski said the starters have developed a really good chemistry, and now his challenge will be how he handles bringing players off the bench.

Early in conference play, Krzyzewski’s solution was to use a lot of players and make hockey-style line changes. Heading into the postseason, that’s a thing of the past.

"We’re not going to just sub five guys," Krzyzewski said. "There’s got to be a rotation, especially after these next few games. You get to tournament play, Jabari [Parker] and Rodney [Hood] have to be out on the court. Like, what are you resting them for?"

While Krzyzewski managed the five-game stretch, he was forced to use center Marshall Plumlee more to help keep players fresh. The 7-foot sophomore has earned more time moving forward after several solid appearances, including five rebounds and three blocks against Syracuse.

It’s the veterans who haven’t performed as expected.

Andre Dawkins had scored double figures in four of five games before the stretch of games started. He hasn’t in the five games since, scoring a total of 19 points. Cook’s shooting has been inconsistent but his defense stellar.

"We need to get Andre shooting again," Krzyzewski said. "During this period, Andre has not been a big factor, and he should be a bigger factor. Quinn should be a bigger factor."

Duke needs a consistent third scorer to emerge from Sulaimon, Dawkins and Cook. The later into March the Blue Devils get, the more teams will key on stopping Parker and Hood and dare other players to carry the offensive load.

"We’re the main two ingredients in our offense," Parker said. "If we get that extra boost, that extra weapon out on the floor, like an Andre, like a Rasheed or even a Quinn, the sky is the limit, and [opponents] are forced to look at other people, too."

Offense hasn’t been an area the Blue Devils have struggled in this season, even when a third scorer has been lacking, but Cook said that rebounding and defense needs to be the focus in the last two regular-season games.

"Those two things win championships," Cook said. "The offense will take care of itself. If we keep playing defense and rebounding -- all five guys rebounding -- I feel that we could be special."

Why Duke & North Carolina have improved

February, 20, 2014
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Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesRoy Williams (left) and Mike Krzyzewski (right) have their teams playing well in recent weeks.


North Carolina and Duke come into Thursday's matchup as two of the hottest teams in college basketball. Since January 21 (the last 4 weeks), North Carolina and Duke are No. 1 (95.3) and No. 2 (94.8), respectively, in BPI.

HOW DUKE HAS IMPROVED

Offensive rebounding
Duke is grabbing 40.7 percent of its own misses over its last nine games, compared to an offensive rebound percentage of 29.7 in its first 17 games. The Blue Devils are averaging 15 offensive boards per game in their last nine games.

That improved offensive rebounding has led to four more points per game on offensive put-backs in the last nine games compared to the first 17.

Jabari Parker
In his last nine games, Jabari Parker is averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds per game on 47 percent shooting.

During that time, 72 percent of Parker’s field-goal attempts have come in the paint. In his first four ACC games, only 37 percent of his field-goal attempts came in the paint.

Parker's pick-and-roll defense has also improved recently. Opponents shot 74 percent against him on pick-and-roll plays in his first 16 games, but that figure has fallen to 23 percent in his last 10 games.

Deeper rotation
Lately, Andre Dawkins, Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee have received more playing time.

Dawkins, Sulaimon, Jefferson and Plumlee are combining to average about 20 more minutes in the last 10 games than they did over the team's first 16 games.

During this recent stretch, the foursome is contributing nine more points, two more offensive rebounds and three more assists per game.

Sulaimon has taken on more of a ball-handler role, averaging 3.8 assists per game in his last 10 games more than doubling his average (1.5) from his first 15 games.

HOW NORTH CAROLINA HAS IMPROVED

North Carolina has been terrific in its last seven games, averaging nearly 16 more points per game than in its first five conference games. The Tar Heels are shooting 35 percent from beyond the arc in their last seven games compared to 23 percent in their previous five games.

Much of the improvement has to do with the play of James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige.

James Michael McAdoo & Marcus Paige
James Michael McAdoo is averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per game in his last seven games and has been especially efficient on post-up plays, shooting 50 percent in his last seven games, up from 39 percent the rest of the season.

Marcus Paige, meanwhile, has been a more efficient half-court scorer in recent games and can thank his improved accuracy on jump shots -- making 48 percent of his shots over the last seven games.

His effective field-goal percentage on jump shots in those games is 67 percent, compared to 50 percent earlier in the season.

Paige has also been a more efficient distributor, averaging about two more assists per game with a 2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio over his last five games.

Syracuse and Duke start a new rivalry

February, 1, 2014
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Jim Boeheim was here when John Thompson Jr. closed Manley Field House and here when the doors to the Carrier Dome first opened.

He is the building’s unofficial historian, curator even, the guy who knows not every inch of the place but literally what the walls would say if they could talk.

No one else has logged more hours in the building, a daily grind of 34 years and counting.

You could say Boeheim has seen a thing or two in the Dome. He did, after all, coach Pearl Washington here, Derrick Coleman, too, and Carmelo Anthony. This is where he said goodbye to Gerry McNamara’s college career and the Georgetown rivalry.

And yet, when the buzzer sounded on a game that Mike Krzyzewski, another guy who has seen a thing or two, called "epic," even Boeheim was out of words.

“I don’t think I’ve been involved in a better game in here that I can remember,’’ Boeheim said.

Syracuse beat Duke 91-89 in overtime. That’s the short story. The long version is almost too hard to explain, played as much on guts as talent, with as much intensity as heart. It went an extra five minutes. It still didn’t seem like enough. It was that good.

Rasheed Sulaimon hit a buzzer-beating 3 to force overtime. Rodney Hood missed a one-handed, would-be game-winning dunk that would have been so monstrous had it gone down instead of off the back of the rim, it would rank as a top 10 for the season. C.J. Fair scored 28 on every sort of floater and muscle drive you could conjure. A record 35,446 Orange juiced fans filled the Dome, cheering so loudly that even Seattle Seahawks fans had to be impressed.

That’s a season’s worth of highlights in one game.

"How many people can say they were a part of a game like this?" Krzyzewski said.

[+] EnlargeTyler Roberson and Marshall Plumlee
Rich Barnes/Getty ImagesTyler Roberson of Syracuse dunks past Marshall Plumlee of Duke.
Krzyzewski was so overwhelmed with how the game was played that he refused to talk about how it might have been called. With the shot clock winding down and the game clock not far behind, Hood crossed over and soared to the rim, an aisle suddenly opening wide. The dunk missed at the same time Hood was met at the rim by Rakeem Christmas, who blocked Hood's shot for his sixth rejection of the game.

Krzyzewski wanted a foul. He didn’t get one.

"The game was too good to talk about one play," Krzyzewski said. "I’m not going there at all."

In the immediate scheme of things, the result matters. Duke is in danger of finishing out of the top three in the ACC, and, should North Carolina join the Blue Devils in the fourth-or-worse category, it will mark the first time in league history that neither finished in at least the bronze-medal category.

The Orange, meantime, remain in the hunt for perfection, with a school-record 21-0 mark. Syracuse has the clear path to becoming the ultimate party crasher and could win its first ACC crown in its first try.

But this was bigger than all of that, really.

Mark down the date -- Feb. 1, 2014: College basketball finally won one in the conference-realignment shuffle.

"Great rivalries don’t have to be built on hatred," Krzyzewski said. "They’re built on respect, on a respect for excellence."

Krzyzewski knew it could be this way. Well, maybe not this good exactly, but good. That’s why the only basketball coach who could make anyone listen spoke up. Tired of watching football people rearrange his sport, he essentially led the ACC to its come-to-Naismith moment.

Adding Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Notre Dame -- and Louisville next season -- surely bolsters the football rosters, but it gives credence to a league that billed itself as basketball first but usually played second fiddle to the Big East.

The truth is, this wasn’t -- and never would be -- Boeheim’s first choice. Given his druthers, the Syracuse coach would still be taking road trips to Washington and Philadelphia, not Winston-Salem, N.C., and Raleigh, N.C.

Everything would be the same as it always was, as good as it always was.

Both he and his program built their reputations on the backbone of the Big East, and if he didn’t go to the ACC kicking and screaming, he at least went reluctantly, recognizing the business of the decision, even if he questioned its soul. It was hard to watch the Big East die, harder still to know his school helped pull the plug.

[+] EnlargeTyler Ennis, Jerami Grant
Mark Konezny/USA TODAY SportsTyler Ennis, No. 11, celebrates Saturday's victory with teammate Jerami Grant.
But Boeheim has also been around this business long enough to be a realist. Nothing lasts -- not conferences or rivalries, but, usually, something comes along to replace them.

There is no more Missouri-Kansas, no more Georgetown-Syracuse. But now, we have Syracuse-Duke.

If this is how it’s going to be, well, feel free to bring on more.

"I feel like this rivalry has been going on for 30 years and it’s only the first one," Fair said.

It probably felt like that because the buildup was weeks in the making. Students started camping out 12 days ago in Boeheimburg, which, thanks to occasional sub-zero temperatures, is a touch less trying than hanging out in Krzyzewskiville in Durham, N.C.

Town buses streamed "Beat Duke" across their fronts, and another sign, "Go SU, beat Duke," served as the departing shot for travelers exiting the airport.

Syracuse even pulled out its trump card, getting Vanessa Williams, Class of ‘85, to sing the national anthem.

Not even the last game against Georgetown, for all its history and nostalgia, could match the first game against Duke.

"If you paid $2,400 for a courtside seat, it was money well spent," Boeheim said. "And if you sold your tickets, well, you should be ashamed because you made money but you missed out on an epic."

And now for the kicker.

We get to do this all over again.

On Feb. 22, Syracuse travels to Duke, which will be a slightly more intimate, no less frenzied atmosphere.

"It’s going to be a ridiculous game," Tyler Ennis said. "They fought us for 40 minutes plus, so we’ve got to be ready to come into their home."

Asked if it could match this one, Ennis paused and smiled.

"I’m not sure about that," he said.

Neither is Jim Boeheim.

Video: Legends talk friendship

February, 1, 2014
2/01/14
1:00
PM ET
Coaches Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski sit down with Rece Davis to talk about their friendship and longevity before Duke's first clash with Syracuse as ACC rivals.

Blue Devils playing with renewed urgency

January, 13, 2014
1/13/14
11:41
PM ET

DURHAM, N.C. -- Surely you didn’t expect Duke to lose at home to Virginia.

No matter how odd it is seeing Duke in the bottom fifth of the polls and in the bottom half of the ACC standings, let’s not get carried away with its demise.

“Losing here is not a good feeling, it’s like a gloomy cloud over Durham every time we lose,” Duke guard Quinn Cook said. “Everybody was against us. I don’t think that nobody believed that we could win today because those guys are a great team.”

The Blue Devils have always been capable of pulling out a 69-65 win at home like they did against the Cavs on Monday. We shouldn’t get too carried away with proclaiming the Blue Devils back, either.

The Cavaliers, despite entering the day tied for first place in the ACC standings with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, lost for the 16th straight time in Cameron Indoor Stadium dating back to Jan. 14, 1995.

“We lost two games and we haven’t been playing well as a ballclub,” Duke forward Jabari Parker said. “To get to play one of the top three teams in the ACC and beat them just brings us back to where we want to be.”

The fact that the Cavs are even a measuring stick should be a red flag. This is the same Virginia team that lost by 35 at Tennessee.

If Duke’s two league losses at Notre Dame and at Clemson didn’t prove it to be a flawed team, then surely Virginia’s rally from down 13 did. The Cavs trailed the entire game until taking a one-point lead with 38 seconds left.

[+] EnlargeDuke
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeRasheed Sulaimon scored a season-high 21 points to lead Duke.
It was short-lived, as Amile Jefferson tied his career high by rebounding a Rodney Hood miss. His job being to rebound and redirect, Jefferson kicked the ball back out and the sequence ended with Rasheed Sulaimon scoring the go-ahead basket when he got a friendly bounce on a 3-pointer.

Jefferson set his career high with his 15th rebound after a Joe Harris miss that could have tied the game with four seconds left.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Jefferson “an animal” for scrapping to get seemingly every rebound.

“The last few seconds [he] just willed us to win,” Krzyzewski said. “That was one of the great sequences that I’ve seen.”

And that is one of the sequences he expects to see much more of from Duke moving forward.

Krzyzewski revealed he hadn’t gotten over his brother’s passing on Dec. 26 and all but promised the Blue Devils would be a different team from now on.

“We haven’t been at our best since the start of conference and I haven’t been at my best since Christmas,” he said. “That’s my responsibility. I’ve been knocked back and today we weren’t knocked back.”

Krzyzewski said he needed to be more observant of his team. He said part of the reason why the Blue Devils were getting dominated by opposing frontcourts was fatigue. That changed against Virginia.

He substituted entire lineups throughout the game to keep players fresh. Cook joked, “It felt like my Little League team.”

But the Blue Devils knew the stakes were big.

That’s why Krzyzewski extolled the crowd to make noise when coming out of a first-half timeout. It’s why Tyler Thornton grabbed Sulaimon and hugged him during a lineup change, happy for his fast start. It’s why Andre Dawkins nearly choked Jefferson in a headlock on the bench after his game-saving rebounds in the final seconds.

“It was a pretty emotional game -- for some personal reasons, but also for this team,” said Sulaimon, who scored a season-high 21 points. “It was a must-win. We had to protect Cameron.”

Duke played with a sense of urgency that it lacked in its road losses. Thornton said no one had to make a stirring speech or discuss how important the game was. They all knew their record and the league standings.

“We at the bottom of the league, 1-2, that was the facts,” Thornton said. “We had no other option but to come out here and get a win.”

Jefferson, he of constantly undersized battles in the post, emerged from the game with his jersey ripped down the right side. He said the game was symbolic of the team’s renewed sense of urgency.

“Tonight was us starting to fight as Duke and as one unit and we need everybody, tonight was a team win,” Jefferson said. “You can’t look at the scoreboard and say one person carried us, it was everyone. Everyone came in the minutes they played, fought and played hard and I think that’s something we have to do going forward.”


What does six years get you? How about a term in the U.S. Senate? Or one college degree, plus the two victory laps you wish you’d taken? Think about everything that’s happened in the past six years: the work you’ve done, the places you’ve visited, how the world has changed, how different you are now, what perspective you’ve gained. Six years is forever.

It’s also the last time Duke was ranked outside the Associated Press top 10 -- until Monday.

It sounds insane, but it’s true: Since Nov. 26, 2007, the Blue Devils have been ranked 10th or higher in the AP poll. You can go into the archives and find that Nov. 19 poll if you like. You can also count forward from there. I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, rest assured, the final number is a mind-bending 122 weeks, the second-longest stretch in college basketball history.

The longest stretch -- UCLA’s 155-week stay from 1966 to 1976 -- will, like many of John Wooden’s records, probably remain forever. But it was accomplished, as were Wooden’s 11 national titles, in an entirely different college basketball climate. There was less talent then, and less diffusion of that talent across the landscape. Duke compiled its record in the modern era, with inarguably tougher competition, where even the faintest idea of an undefeated season -- relatively common in Wooden’s era -- is always immediately laughed away. The next-longest active top-10 streak belongs to Michigan State, with 16 weeks. See?

The differences in era between Wooden and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski may always make the “greatest coach of all time” debate a protracted one. There will be Wooden holdouts forever. But more than anything, the gulf in history accentuates Krzyzewski’s case. Krzyzewski has won 968 Division I college basketball games (968!) and kept his team ranked in the AP top 10 in the decades in which it has been most difficult to do so. By the time he’s done, it’s going to be difficult to mount any argument at all. Heck, it already is.

Of course, this eulogy only comes courtesy of the streak’s end: On Monday, Duke was busted down to No. 16 in the AP poll following Saturday’s loss at Notre Dame. The good news: Duke is still in the Top 25, where it's been ranked 313 of the past 315 weeks. Which is almost as crazy.

Ask any reporter who covers college basketball generally or Duke specifically for a living, and they'll tell you: Coach K's name takes a while. Let me tell you my story: I've been writing about this sport I love for this web site for four years now. I wrote elsewhere before that. And I would say it was only within the past 12-18 months that I became rote in my ability to type "Mike Krzyzewski" without really having to think about it. That's not an exaggeration. Before then, I just Googled "mike k" and pasted the robot's response.

OK, so maybe that says a lot about my relationship with the Internet. (What?! It's like a preemptive double-check! Don't judge me.) But it also says something about Coach K's name -- that something being that the nickname "Coach K" exists for very good reason.

For further evidence, I present this rather hilarious ESPN footage, in which our TV folks invited a host of ACC players to an impromptu spelling bee. Could they get the iconic coach's name right? No. No, they could not.

Joe Harris, you lose points for stopping at K. Nick Faust, you gain 4,000 points for an apparently good-faith attempt that brought you to K-R-E-Y-S-C-H-E-W-I-Z-Z-L-E, which looks like a mix of "Kreayshawn" and how Snoop Dogg Lion would spell it.

In any case, Coach K's lesson is helpful. The tricky part is the Z-Y-Z. Once you get that down, well, he's right: You should be able to do it. After 964 wins, the man deserves that much.

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