College Basketball: Duke preview
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 26, 2011
By Joedy McCreary
DURHAM ó Duke can give Mike Krzyzewski one impressive record at the start of this season ó and an even more important one at the end.
Virtually all of the focus on the Blue Devils early in the season will center around Krzyzewskiís inevitable march toward Bob Knightís record for Division I menís coaching victories.
But thereís another mark Krzyzewski undoubtedly wants to make in college basketball history. His next appearance in the Final Four will be his 12th, and that would tie John Wooden for the most in a career.
Itíll be bigger news if Krzyzewski doesnít surpass Knight before December ó he should have his 903rd victory by Thanksgiving ó and his 32nd Duke team appears capable of bringing him even with Wooden and delivering his second Final Four trip in three years.
ěWeíve been part of a lot of big games for him, and itís always exciting,î said forward Miles Plumlee, the teamís lone senior. ěItís a lot of fun to play with that pressure for that game.î
Krzyzewski enters his 37th season as a head coach with a career record of 900-284, two victories shy of matching Knight ó his mentor and college coach at Army ó atop the list. Krzyzewski can match his coach and mentor Nov. 12 at home against Presbyterian and pass him three nights later against Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.
He has acknowledged that setting the record is all but a foregone conclusion for a Duke program that has racked up 15 straight seasons of at least 20 wins, and has often said itís special that the first two men in Division I to reach 900 wins are a coach and his point guard ó Krzyzewski ran the point for Knightís Army teams in the late 1960s.
Of more pressing concern is meshing five promising freshmen ó including three McDonaldís All-Americans ó into a team that lost its top three scorers to the NBA.
Krzyzewski hopes he has the right mix to replace last yearís ACC player of the year (guard Nolan Smith), the Most Outstanding Player of the 2010 Final Four (forward Kyle Singler) and the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft (guard Kyrie Irving). Though Irving played just 11 games during his lone, injury-shorted season at Duke, those three combined for more than half of the Blue Devilsí 2,993 points last season.
So, Krzyzewski is tweaking the way his team plays yet again to take advantage of a roster that includes four players who are 6-foot-10 or taller ó including three from the same family.
One thing he said he learned during the teamís two-week exhibition tour of China and Dubai is that ěour big guys are good.î
ěThe Plumlees, the two older ones (Miles and junior Mason) are just better basketball players, and so is (6-11 forward) Ryan Kelly,î Krzyzewski said. ěHow we incorporate our (big men) into what weíre doing, both offensively and defensively, is a change from the last couple of years. And so there (are) some habits to break as far as how we score, how we defend.î
The coach admits this yearís players, by and large, donít have quite the ability to blow past defenders and create their own shots, though highly touted freshman Austin Rivers has the potential to develop it. But while he wonít call these Blue Devils ěan inside-out team,î he wants them to depend on each other to generate scoring opportunities.
ěWeíre not a real ëbreakdowní team. … Nolan, Kyrie, those guys could really break you down and force a lot of help-and-recover situationsî for defenses, he said. ěProbably the best guy who really does that is Austin. But by being a freshman, heís still learning what that means ó a breakdown guy that forces help-and-recover needs to be a really good passer too, and heís been a scorer his whole life. And so we need to help each other get shots more so than the last couple of years.î
Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, is the Blue Devilsí most highly regarded recruit in the backcourt since ó well, since Irving last year. But thatís where the similarities between them seem to end.
While Irving was known for his quick first step and was a natural point guard, Rivers is more of a scoring threat ó he finished his prep career as the second-leading scorer in Central Florida high school history with 2,957 points ó who likely wonít be asked to run the show.
ěIíve been waiting for this for a lot of years now … waiting to play college basketball,î Rivers said. ěAnd now that Iím here at Duke, great players and a great coach and our schedule, Iím very excited to play.î