Posted: 1:43 a.m. Friday, March 22, 2013
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – For years, Mike Krzyzewski adopted the same approach to the NCAA Tournament.
The Duke coach liked to treat the 64 (later the 68) team tournament as a series of mini-tournaments. He’d look at each weekend as a four-team tournament. For this weekend, he would focus on his first-round game with Albany and his “championship” game with either Creighton or Cincinnati. He would refuse to look past that weekend.
That approach worked pretty well – Krzyzewski has an NCAA record 79 NCAA Tournament wins. His .767 winning percentage in NCAA games is the best of any active coach.
But three years ago, Krzyzewski abandoned his mini-tournament idea and adopted a new approach to the NCAA Tournament after talking to former Indiana coach Bob Knight.
“We changed that a little bit before 2010,” Krzyzewski said. “I remember talking to Coach Knight about it because you’re always trying to figure out physiologically how to be better.
“The way he tried to do it, he said each game’s a championship game. If you make it to the sixth championship game, then you are a veteran of winning championships. I really think that’s more appropriate.
“I’ve used that same thing in trying to coach our national team. Each game is a seventh game for the pro guys to try and get them into that moment.”
Duke’s first championship game is today, when the Blue Devils take on the Great Danes of the University at (not, I was informed, ‘of’) Albany. It’s a game that Duke should win … of course, every Duke fan in the world is going to remind me that Duke should have beaten Lehigh in their first “championship” game a year ago.
Krzyzewski is not going to dwell on what happened in Greensboro last year. He understands that his players remember that disappointment, just as he hopes his seniors remember the exhilaration of winning the 2010 National Championship in Indianapolis.
“That happens and it goes in the chest of memories,” Coach K said. “We want to be in this moment and not bring a lot of things from other moments, including championships. Because that makes you soft … it might make me soft – I’ve already won, why do I need to win again?”
But Krzyzewski – and Duke – do need to win again because the public and media have such short memories. Just an example , I was watching a panel of ESPN “experts” project the 2-13 NCAA Tournament and they all picked Michigan State to beat Duke in the Sweet 16 next week. In explaining why, the consensus was that MSU coach Tom Izzo is a great NCAA Tournament coach and “this is his time of year.”
Well, Izzo is a great NCAA coach. But Duke’s coach has more NCAA wins, more NCAA championships and a better NCAA winning percentage. And it’s not like Izzo has a lot more recent success – his last trip to the Final Four was in 2010, when the Spartans lost to Butler in the semifinals. I seem to remember that Coach K was at the 2010 Final Four too … and cut down the nets.
But Duke’s reputation has been tarnished – both by the Lehigh game in 2012 and the dismal loss to Maryland in the 2013 ACC Tournament. Krzyzewski is hard pressed to explain his team’s lackluster effort against the Terps.
“Every human being fights a thing called human nature,” he said when asked about that effort. “It’s a hell of a thing to fight. The really good people win it most of the time. That’s what our program had done. For the last 17 years, our team has been either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed .
“There’s an amazing level of consistency. ”
Is it possible that Duke will repeat its Lehigh or Maryland nightmares in Philadelphia?
“I really believe my team is ready to play,” Coach K said. “I think they’re excited to be here. I believe they are ready to play their best.”
Krzyzewski said that this team’s drive would come from his three seniors.
“I love my seniors and what they’ve done,” he said. “It’s always important for a team to get on the page of its seniors, if the seniors want to win. If the seniors want the season to be over, you’d better get on someone else’s page. But if the seniors really want to win – and I think our guys do – you’d better get on their page.”
Duke’s three current seniors aren’t ready for it to be over.
“In three years, we’ve had a lot of experiences,” Ryan Kelly said. “That includes last year and the national championship. We know what it takes. We need to be the guys who set the tone.”
THE ROUND OF 64
The NCAA Tournament started as an eight-team event in 1939. It grew to 16 teams in 1951 and has been growing ever since.
One of the minor consequences of the exponential growth of the tournament has been the change in nomenclature. When Duke lost its NCAA opener to Villanova in 1955, it was called a first-round game – even though it was in the round of 32. When Duke lost its NCAA Opener to VCU in 2007, it was called a first-round game, although that one was in the round of 64. When Duke lost to Lehigh in the 2013 NCAA opener, it was technically a SECOND round defeat.
I know that doesn’t make sense, but the NCAA decided that it was degrading for the eight teams that had to play in Dayton before the tournament to call those play-in games. So now those early games – LaSalle-Boise State … North Carolina A&T-Liberty and the like – are now first-round games. When Duke meets Albany this afternoon, it will be a second-round game.
To avoid confusion, I’m just going to call it the round of 64.
When Krzyzewski made his first NCAA trip in 1984, he didn’t have to play a round of 64 game. That was a 48-team field and the Blue Devils earned a bye into the second … er, the round of 32.
His second NCAA Tournament in 1985 was the first 64-team tournament. Duke opened with a round of 64 victory over Pepperdine.
Overall, Krzyzewski’s Duke teams have played in 27 round of 64 games. The Devils are 24-3 in those games. Let’s look at the three losses:
– 1996 – A crippled Duke team, seeded No. 8 in the Southwest Region, lost 75-60 to No. 9 seed Eastern Michigan in the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. Duke, which had bounced back from the 1995 nightmare to win 18 games , was playing without point guard Steve Wojciechowski (he sprained his ankle against Maryland in the ACC Tournament; he managed just three minutes against EMU – the same as soccer player Jay Heaps). Stan Brunson, another soccer player, was forced to play 22 minutes with center Taymon Domzalski crippled by bad knees.
– 2007 – No. 7 seed Duke lost 77-75 on a last second shot by VCU star Eric Maynor. The Blue Devils were relatively healthy, although it was a young team with no seniors and one junior (Demarcus Nelson) playing major minutes.
– 2013 – No. 2 seed Duke was upset 75-70 by Lehigh. The Blue Devils were, of course, trying to adjust to the loss of Ryan Kelly in the week before the ACC Tournament. Duke still might have survived the round of 64 test, except that guards Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins combined to shoot 3-for-18 from the floor. Freshman Austin Rivers wasn’t much better (5-for-14). Duke shot 41.4 percent from the floor, despite a 9-for-9 performance from Mason Plumlee … the rest of the team shot 30.6 percent. And even then, Duke might have won without a stellar performance by Lehigh’s C.J. McCullom, who scored 30 points.
Balanced against those three round of 64 defeats are the 24 wins. Of that number, just three were really close games:
– 2008 – No. 2 seeded Duke avoided back-to-back round of 64 defeats when Gerald Henderson scored the winning basket in the final seconds to edge Belmont 71-70. Duke would go down rather meekly to West Virginia in the next round.
– 1997 – No. 2 seed Duke struggled before beating Murray State 71-68 in Charlotte as senior Jeff Capel poured in 25 points. But the rest of the team played poorly and that carried over into the round of 32 game against Providence, which eliminated the Blue Devils.
– 1986 – No. 1 seed Duke trailed 16-seed Mississippi Valley State at the half and deep into the second half before senior Johnny Dawkins brought the No. 1 ranked Blue Devils back for an 85-78 victory. Despite the close call in the opener, Duke rolled in the second round against Old Dominion, then made it all the way to the National Championship game.
The ’86 scare is interesting because it’s the only time Duke has struggled in the first round and still gone deep in the tournament. The reverse is also true – usually. When Duke rolls in the first round, the Blue Devils almost always reach the Sweet 16 — at least. The one exception was 1993, when Duke blitzed Southern Illinois by 35 points in the Rosemont Horizon only to lose a heartbreaker to California in the round of 32.
The ACC Tournament has been a more accurate gauge. Since 1986, Duke has failed to reach Saturday’s ACC semifinals seven times – 1987, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2007 and now 2013. Only the 1987 team has managed to reach the Sweet 16 after losing early in the ACC Tournament. That is the precedent that the ’13 team has to overcome.
ALBANY VS. LEGIGH
Albany guard Jacob Iati is getting tired of being asked about the 2012 Duke-Lehigh game.
The senior guard doesn’t think Lehigh’s upset of the Blue Devils in last year’s round of 64 is at all helpful for the Great Danes in this year’s tournament.
“I think that’s actually a disadvantage for us,” Iati said Thursday. “I’m guessing – I know some of those guys were on that team last year, so I’m sure it doesn’t sit well with them.”
Albany coach Will Brown shares that view.
“Lehigh didn’t do us any favors, for sure,” he said. “The tough thing is the team we’re trying to beat is a team that got upset one year ago. So I think Duke will be focused. I think they’ll play with tremendous energy.”
The Great Danes finished fifth in the America East standings, but won three dramatic victories in the conference tournament to claim the NCAA bid. Sophomore forward Sam Rowley hit the go-ahead layup with 19 seconds left to edge Maine in the quarterfinals; Mike Black’s shot with 2.7 seconds left stunned top-seeded Stony Brook in the semifinals; Albany finished on a 10-4 run to edge Vermont 53-49 in the championship game.
Albany did meet Ohio State early in the season and for 15 minutes it was a tight game.
“Then Coach [Thad] Matta decided to call time-out and really yell and scream and get on his team a little bit,” Brown said. “They came out and went on a 13-2 run and the rest was history.”
Ohio State coasted to an 82-60 victory.
But two days after the loss in Columbus, the Great Danes took on Washington in Seattle and shocked the Huskies 63-62. Iati hit 6-of-12 3-pointers to fuel the upset.
“We have to defend their guards,” Krzyzewski said. “And there is a toughness about them. They’ve won a number of close games.”
Black said Albany’s best chance was to control the tempo against Duke.
“We have to be aggressive, but we have to be smart aggressive,” he said. “We have to control tempo. We can’t play the way Duke wants to play. If the game us up in the 80s, we’re going to be in trouble.”
That’s the goal for the Blue Devils. If they control the tempo and match Albany’s intensity, there’s no reason Duke should not win this championship game.
NOTES – Duke has already seen one Albany player this season – Maryland guard Logan Aronhault was supposed to be a senior for the Great Danes, but he took advantage of the grad student transfer rule to play for the Terps instead. In three games against Duke, Aronhault scored eight points, but five of those came in the Maryland loss in Durham … A few flakes of snow fell in Philadelphia Thursday – traditionally a sign of good luck for the Duke basketball team. … Duke has a 2-0 NCAA record in this building – beating UCLA and Southern Cal in the 2001 East Regionals here. The Blue Devils are 4-0 in Philadelphia in NCAA play, counting two wins in the old Spectrum in the 1992 East Regionals – including the memorable regional title game against Kentucky. … Duke will be looking for the 1,999th win in program history. If the Blue Devils can win both games in Philadelphia this weekend, they will become the fourth program in NCAA history to reach the 2,000 win barrier.