College Basketball Nation: Mike Krzyzewski
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.
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."
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."
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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.
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.
"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."
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
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke’s defensive principles and concepts finally morphed from the abstract to the tangible against Michigan ON Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
It might not be the watershed game that changes the entire season, but the No. 10 Blue Devils saw what it was like to win a game by stopping a team rather than simply outscoring them. Their 79-69 win over the No. 22 Wolverines in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge had everything Duke teams generally take for granted, minus its trademark slapping of the floor.
“For a young team I think you have to see it first,” forward Rodney Hood said. “Coach is saying you’ve got to do this or you’ve got to do that, you don’t see it. This is a big confidence boost for our defense knowing that we can shut out a great team. Well not shut out, but we can play really good defense on a great team.”
Michigan extended the game late by fouling and making baskets, scoring 19 points in the final two minutes. The Wolverines shot 56 percent in the second half, which would fool anyone who didn’t watch the game into thinking they were effective.
“Even without stats, we’re playing better defensively,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We played an outstanding defensive game tonight -- not a good one -- an outstanding defensive game tonight.”
Stauskas might have still been a bit hobbled after returning from an ankle injury that kept him out of Friday’s win over Coppin State. But Duke’s Tyler Thornton and Matt Jones never lost him in transition or left him to help out in the post.
“Me and Ty made an effort not to let him catch the ball,” Jones said. I’m going out on a limb and saying it would have been hard for anybody to score the way we were focused tonight.”
Jones played a season-high 18 minutes, presumably taking minutes that Rasheed Sulaimon would have had. Sulaimon did not play, leaving Krzyzewski to say after the game that he “needed to play better than guys who played tonight.”
Duke’s glaring weakness on paper -- its interior defense -- had arguably its best effort of the season. The Blue Devils outrebounded Michigan 32-31. That might not seem like a major feat, but this is the same team that got handled on the boards by Kansas to the tune of 39-24.
“We knew we were going to be a little undersized, but we have guys who will battle,” said Duke forward Amile Jefferson, who tied Jabari Parker with a team-high six rebounds. “I think we’ve really gotten back to that each game. We’ve gotten better -- I think it showed, especially in the first half, our ability to rebound and defend.”
The Blue Devils entered the game allowing opponents to shoot 45 percent from the floor. They haven’t allowed that high of a percentage since giving up 46.7 percent in 1991-92. And like that national championship team, this team has little problem scoring. It's currently averaging 86.1 points per game, which nearly mirrors the 88.0-point average from ’92.
Hood said becoming a championship caliber team will likely be defined by how well -- or ineffective -- it is at stopping teams.
“We can score the ball, that’s not an issue,” Hood said. “We have to have that defensive mindset, and that’s what’s going to get it for us this year.”
Losses to Kansas and Arizona -- and even watching Vermont shoot 64 percent in a narrow Duke win -- proved the Blue Devils’ mortality. But the way they beat Michigan boosted confidence that they can become a better defensive team.
“We’re not a great basketball team,” Krzyzewski said. “We have great kids and they’re trying hard. We’ve got a really tough schedule; we’re just trying to get better.”
They took a major step toward that Tuesday. The Wolverines averaged better than nine 3-pointers a game, but Duke held them to a season-low three.
“We took them out of their offense, we took away their best player and we took away their 3-point shots for the most part,” Hood said. “We talked, we gang rebounded, we scrapped for loose balls. That’s what we have to do to be a great team.”
NEW YORK -- Boy, college basketball fans are in for a Black Friday treat.
Two weeks after that fantastic Champions Classic doubleheader in Chicago, we get another top-10 clash -- No. 4 Arizona versus No. 6 Duke, at Madison Square Garden, no less.
The fabulous freshmen have been the top story of the young season, and two of the finest -- Duke’s Jabari Parker and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon -- will go toe-to-toe Friday night.
They certainly didn’t disappoint in Wednesday’s NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals. Parker poured in a game-high 27 points in Duke’s 74-64 win over Alabama. Gordon posted a double-double (10 points, 13 rebounds) in Arizona’s 66-62 victory over Drexel.
Gordon, a 6-foot-9 forward from San Jose, Calif., is within a whisker of averaging a double-double, at 12.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
“His first six games for me have been great,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “He’s a pleasure to coach. As talented as he is on the floor, he’s an even better kid and teammate.
“Aaron’s not gonna wow you with 25 shot attempts, if that’s what you’re looking for. But if you really pay attention to the stat sheet, he played between the 3 and the 4 [positions] -- in 35 minutes he had 13 rebounds, 10 points. ... I think any time you have a player with 10 points, 13 rebounds, they’re adding tremendous value.”
Parker, a 6-foot-8 swingman from Chicago, was nearly perfect against Alabama, making 9 of 12 shots from the floor and 9 of 10 from the foul line, plus eight rebounds. He’s averaging 23.2 points, and has scored 20 or more in seven consecutive games to start his collegiate career.
The last freshman to pull that off? Kevin Durant. But Parker didn’t sound too impressed with his performance Wednesday.
“I think I’ve got a long ways to go,” Parker said. “Just need to stay sharp, or be sharp in the beginning of the game. I lacked that in the first couple minutes. Nothing is coming too easy.”
Alabama coach Anthony Grant was much more impressed.
“He’s probably, in eight years as a head coach, the most talented freshman I’ve seen just from his size, his physicality and his skill level,” Grant said. “He’s able to make tough shots and free himself for the open shot and he’s able to get himself to the free throw line. He’s just a really, really talented player.”
Parker has the early lead in the Freshman of the Year race, but Arizona has the higher ranking heading into the NIT championship showdown. The Wildcats are 6-0, and have Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski concerned.
“Arizona’s probably ahead of some other teams,” Krzyzewski said. “They have guys that have played prominent roles back, and then they’ve added a great guard [T.J. McConnell' and a great wing [Gordon] to their lineup.
“They’re big – it’ll be completely different than playing [Alabama]. We’re not real big, so that’ll be interesting, how we try to get that done.”
Duke is 6-1, its only loss coming against No. 2 Kansas in Chicago. The Blue Devils were in the top 10 in the country in points per game (92.7) and offensive field goal percentage (55.0) entering the semis, and Parker looks practically unstoppable. The Wildcats don’t have a scorer who can match him.
That being said, Arizona arrived in New York ranked fourth in the country in field goal percentage defense (33.3), and has yet to give up more than 62 points in a game.
“We have to defend. We have to be an elite rebounding team,” Miller said. “And then our offense, we’re gonna do it with balance, we’re gonna do it where different players on any given night can step up.”
Two top-10 teams with legitimate national championship aspirations, on the brightest stage in college basketball? That’s must-see TV, and certainly something to be thankful for this holiday weekend.
Enjoy Parker and Gordon while you can, college hoops fans. They’ll be moving on before too long.
Note: For the first half of this scouting report on the fascinating matchup between Kentucky and Michigan State, click here.
No. 4 Duke vs. No. 5 Kansas, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
A whole new world. And you thought scouting Kentucky-Michigan State was hard.
Sure, the Wildcats are freshmen in short tape supply. But at least they have two games in the books already, twice as many as either Kansas or Duke. And Michigan State is a known quantity. With the Spartans involved, the mental template for how a game might progress is at least within reach; you don't need scattered film to make an educated guess.
Kansas and Duke offer little such luxury.
This is a most unusual state of affairs. Kansas coach Bill Self (for the past decade) and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (for the past 246 years) have sustained their respective successes through the classic program-building of yore. Both coaches have taken on one-and-done talents, sure, but they've always leaned on the proverbial "program guys" -- juniors and seniors with reliable, if less rapturous, roles.
It would be silly to overstate the case here, of course; Duke has Quinn Cook (a junior), Rasheed Sulaimon (a heavily used sophomore), Andre Dawkins (a prodigal junior) and even reserve guard Tyler Thornton (a program-guy's-guy senior). Kansas has former Memphis forward Tarik Black (a senior, albeit a newcomer), point guard Naadir Tharpe (a junior) and forward Perry Ellis (a heavily used sophomore). There are familiar faces here. But there are more of the unfamiliar. More to the point, the newcomers are the most crucial pieces on both sides, even this early in the season.
One game is the smallest of sample sizes, to be sure, but that only adds to the difficulty -- and drives home that it's so hard to know what to expect when these two teams take the floor Thursday.
Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins. Or is it? Speaking of newcomers, it would be silly to ignore the individual matchup this game offers us: The No. 1 player in the loaded 2013 class versus the No. 2; the new Next LeBron James against the player crowned as such on the cover of Sports Illustrated a year ago; Jabari Parker versus Andrew Wiggins, with all eyes on both.
It's entirely possible we'll look back at this game as the start of a personal rivalry akin to that shared by James and Carmelo Anthony early in their NBA careers, if not exactly Bird versus Magic. (Let's not go crazy.) But the immediate upshot is far more concrete: Parker might be the best pure scorer in the country, and Wiggins -- in addition to being good at pretty much everything a basketball player can be good at -- might be the best on-ball defender in same.
At the very least, Wiggins will need to be Tuesday night. If nothing else -- and that's a big "if," because Wiggins can dominate on both ends of the floor -- he'll have to do that. For as small as that sample size is, we have every reason to believe he can. (Just ask Julius Randle.)
The benefit of identity. Wiggins will have to key on Parker not thanks to narrative, or next June's draft, but because Kansas's best shot of beating Duke Tuesday night hinges on it.
Duke, even one game in, has one clear advantage over Kansas: identity. That's a fuzzy term to throw around in a scouting report, I realize, but it's true. The Blue Devils' season opener against Davidson showcased exactly what everyone thought (hoped?) Duke's true calling might be before the season began -- that Coach K would not only field a good team, but a thrilling one; that his group would not only pour in points, but would do so with verve. And that's what exactly what it did in its debut last week, scoring an utterly mental 111 points in 70 possessions in high style. The prophecy was fulfilled. Basketball aesthetes everywhere rejoiced.
This identity is inextricably tied to Parker's versatility. At 6-foot-8, Parker is as comfortable on the perimeter as in the low block; one would seek to avoid the Anthony comparisons were they not so obvious, or so apt. Hood's presence means double trouble in this regard, combining with Parker and Duke's lineup of floor-spreading guards to create a secondary-breaking nightmare.
Kansas, on the other hand, is still very much in search of the I-word. The Jayhawks weren't nearly as impressive in their 80-63 win (in 70 possessions) over Louisiana Monroe on Friday. They were far more disjointed on both ends of the floor. This shouldn't come as a surprise. Self typically has years to concoct the balance of his lineup, to drill his players in the nuances of his hi-low offense and tight man-to-man defense. But with so many young players, Self finds himself in the position -- at least for the moment, and maybe for a month or more -- of hoping the individual talents of Wiggins, Embiid, Selden, Black and the rest are enough to overcome early structural shortcomings.
To do that Tuesday night, Wiggins has to dominate. He has to exert his will offensively, yes, but just as important is his ability to stop Parker at the point of attack, to slow Duke to a more manageable speed, to get the Blue Devils out of their deadly open floor rhythm.
That's a lot to ask of a kid playing in his second career game, but everything -- from the first chapter of the Wiggins-Parker saga to the simple matter of getting out of Chicago with a win -- depends on it.
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.