Section 17: K Rising

Coach K rose above Dean Smith in the win column Wednesday (Photo DukeBluePlanet)

K-r-z-y-z-e-w-s-k-i.

While the name might be hard to spell, the accomplishments of the man himself are equally hard to ignore. On an historic night in front of a “friendly” road crowd at the Greensboro Coliseum, Duke’s own Mike Krzyzewski tallied his 880th victory in 36 years of coaching D1 college basketball at the US Military Academy and Duke University. Although the game on the court between Duke and UNC-Greensboro was a mismatch in terms of talent, the Blue Devils paid homage to their legendary coach by playing as intensely as they have during the 2010-11 season. After the game, Coach K said he was honored that his team played with such passion, but he has come to expect nothing less. After all, he has instilled in each of his 31 Duke teams his own relentless drive to win for the last 31 years.

Of course however, the bigger story surrounding Coach K’s 880th victory is that of him surpassing the University of North Carolina’s own legendary coach, Dean Smith, in total victories. This just affirms that in the greatest rivalry in all of college sports, one team constantly serves as a measuring stick for the other. The Dean of Tobacco Road had an impressive tenure at UNC, tallying 2 national championships, 879 career victories, and yes, a few too many wins over the Blue Devils. After 36 years with the Tar Heels, all of us drinking the royal blue Kool-Aid were very happy to see him go. This is partly because the years following Smith’s retirement, most notably the DOH! years, were freaking awesome. But if we put down the Kool-Aid for a second and approach Smith’s legacy from the perspective of a college basketball fan, we’ll have to admit that it is pretty astounding. Smith played and coached under the University of Kansas’s revered coach, Phog Allen, who himself was coached by the dude who invented the game. Very cool stuff. Smith was no doubt a great coach and ambassador for the game of college basketball. But now, please excuse me as I take a sip of my royal blue Kool-Aid…

Dean Smith just ate Coach K’s dust.

Yeah, how does THAT feel, Tar Heel fans? Awww, I’m sorry, does it break your little hearts to know that your Golden Boy, the Great Innovator, the Granddaddy of Carolina basketball, your IDOL has now been eclipsed by the one man who you so dearly love to hate? This one man, who has instilled in you for 30+ years a soul-crushing hatred for anything Duke blue, who has elevated your rival’s basketball program into the stratosphere, has finally surpassed your beloved hero. Oh and don’t worry. Pretty soon, he’s going to single-handedly surpass you in the only number that matters: titles. And no, Carolina fans, this does not count as a national title. Now, go cry yourselves to sleep and wipe your tears with your third place NIT banner and your pictures of Jordan wearing short shorts. Good riddance.

…Ahem. Right. Gonna put down that Kool-Aid now.

There was a whole lot of this going on against UNC-G. (DukeBluePlanet photo)

But I digress. As Coach K and Dean Smith would both say, a number like 880 wins really has no meaning if you’re looking at the here and now. We all know that a win is a win, regardless of the circumstances, and any victory like tonight’s sound win over UNC-G is certainly a positive for this Duke team. Some things we can take away from this lopsided annihilation of the UNC-Greensboro Spartans:

  • Duke shot lights out in the same arena that will be the site of the 2011 ACC tournament. The Blue Devils shot 61% from the field and 46% from beyond the arc. Also, although we are pretty solid from the charity stripe, Duke is (as of yet) not the exceptional free throw shooting team that we were last year. This is in large part due to the absence of one Jon Scheyer.
  • This game was one of the few instances this year in which Duke torched the nets right from the start. I’m sure that Coach K noticed our slow starts from earlier games and sought to improve this aspect of the first half. @NdotSmitty was in attack mode from the get-go, and Duke started the contest on a 15-2 run and 6-8 shooting from the field.
  • …Speaking of Nolan Smith, it appears as though he is much more comfortable at the PG spot this year than he was two years ago, and he finished the game with a near-career high 26 points. Now, I realize that this might be in part due to the lackluster competition we have faced ever since Kyrie Irving went out with his unfortunate toe injury. But, it could also just mean that Nolan is a much improved player since the first point guard experiment that Coach K tried during Smith’s sophomore year. Additionally, this year Nolan has a few more backcourt friends with whom he can share the ball-handling duties.
  • …Speaking of Nolan Smith’s ball-handling backcourt friends (pause), Seth Curry showed some real poise with the rock in his hands. He made some great decisions with the ball and utilized the shot fake to near perfection. Tyler Thornton also got some burn in this contest, and although he might not fill up the stat sheet, Thornton played imposing defense, forced turnovers, and as usual, was quite vocal on the court.
  • Kyle was Kyle. He tallied a quiet 27 in part because a certain big man was being quite loud…
  • Miles Plumlee was DESTRUCTIVE around the rim tonight, throwing down two catastrophic tomahawks and a Plumlee Reverse Slam™. “Please sir, may I have another,” indeed.
  • If there is one negative to take away from this game, it has to be the rebounding. Duke was outrebounded by 4 boards tonight, but most concerning has to be UNC-G’s 12 offensive rebounds compared to Duke’s 7. Against teams with truly imposing bigs, such a discrepancy will certainly be a killer.

Aside from all that, this was a fun game to watch from start to finish. Cupcakes sure are tasty around this time of year. Thanks for reading! Congrats again to Coach K for reaching this newest milestone: 880 wins and a spot as the second winningest coach in D1 history. Only his mentor, The General, remains ahead of him…

The Beat Goes On

Hello, Crazie-Talkers.

Yes, it’s been a while since our last entry, and for that we apologize. The collective insanity during finals period on Duke’s campus submerged our staff in a heap of exams, papers and presentations. This writer endured European blizzards and faulty airlines before finally making it back to the United States from a semester abroad. Lamentably—but necessarily—Crazie-Talk had to take a hiatus. Now that the holidays are culminating in days of college football and snow blankets the East Coast, we have returned to provide some more fun-filled coverage of the team we all freak out about.

But enough idle chitchat. The nation’s best college basketball team has produced loads of news in the normally dull period of mid-December, and here I am to recap it:

  • Kyrie Irving—whose 31 points felled Michigan State—fell himself against Butler, and the Duke nation stood up in support of his mysteriously injured toe.
  • In his absence, Nolan, Kyle and Andre have stepped up to lead the team to home court annihilations of Bradley, St. Louis and Elon. Nolan is putting up All-American numbers and looks prepared to build his point guard resume in the coming months.
  • Our legendary coach stands poised to win his 880th game against a winless UNC-Greensboro team on Wednesday, which will move him into second place on the all-time wins list. In the process, Coach K will pass Dean Smith, his former Tobacco Road nemesis—an event that has reignited the rivalry discourse months before Duke and UNC meet on the floor (at least Roy approves!).
  • Our 2011 recruiting class has shined in early season action. Austin Rivers is putting up absurd numbers, including several huge statistical performances in the City of Palms tournament in Fort Myers. And now that Rivers has gotten the Dick Vitale seal of scintillation, I guess we can officially get excited about him (even if his team only managed fourth place). Austin was a celebrity at the tournament that he’s dominated throughout high school, and the national hype is growing to levels normally reserved for people like Greg Oden. Freshman scoring records, prepare to fall.
  • Marshall Plumlee won the dunk contest at City of Palms with some basketball/soccer hybrid tricks reminiscent of his brother’s work in the CTC Dunk show. The Perky Plumlee Big Man Academy should be opening soon.
  • Quinn Cook took home the MVP at the Iolani Classic in Hawaii, as his Oak Hill Warriors defeated Monteverde 58-44 in a battle of high school hoops powerhouses. Quinn had 22 points in the defensive grinder, and knocked down three of his team’s four triples.
  • Mike Gbinije looks fundamentally sound in these highlights from the Chick-fil-A Classic in South Carolina. (MG comes in at 1:22 in the video).

So December has been kind to Duke in all things not involving toes. The speculation about Kyrie’s potential return to the team is already turned to eleven; another “serious” prognostication would just add to the chatter. But what we do know is that our remaining regular season schedule looks horrible on paper. Of our opponents, only Maryland is listed on Ken Pomeroy’s current Top 25, and Duke is the only ACC team in the ESPN or AP polls. If we can stay afloat on the road—which is never easy, regardless of the conference’s weakness this year—Coach K should rack up a bunch of wins in January and February. The Irving Question will persist until a real answer is given, but we have a lot of ACC hide to tan until that day arrives.

Anyway, Happy Holidays, everyone. C-T will be back in force when the crew returns for the spring semester. Until then, enjoy the smooth sounds of Kyrie, Josh and Tyler singing Christmas music next to the locker room tree.