(Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his players at the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn – Photo by Jason Schott)
The Duke Blue Devils, the second seed in the Midwest regional, will be taking on the Cinderella team of the tournament, the Syracuse Orange, who are the 11th seed and upset Michigan State last Sunday to get here, on Friday night in Omaha.
This unexpected matchup pits two legendary coaches, as Duke’s Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski, will face off against Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim.
Coach K and Boeheim held press conferences on Thursday afternoon, and here is what they had to say:
Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski:
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: We’re excited to be here in Omaha. A great reception thus far; hopefully we get one tomorrow night too. But we’re healthy, excited and playing very good basketball right now. Hopefully we can keep that going.
Q. Can playing the zone on defense help you offensively when you go up against another zone?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I think so. A little more familiarity. I think you respect it even more because you know a little bit more of the intricacies of playing it. And so when you see Syracuse play it, you have an appreciation for how well they do, the way they do their zone.
And some of the changes that they make as the year goes along, as their players improve — which Jim’s players always improve — but, yeah, I think it helps both teams, I think, understand that.
Q. You kind of have been an up and down team from 3 this year —
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I’m sorry, we’ve been an up and down?
Q. From 3-point land this year, but last week you drained 20-plus 3s and had a high percentage. What was the key last weekend to get anything to go in from 3?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Our guys hit shots. I mean, I think offense is an up-and-down type of thing. But overall we’ve been an outstanding — we haven’t been an up-and-down offensive team. We’ve been a good offensive team all year long.
And if you only depend on the 3, then you’re going to be in trouble. But we’ve been a good rebounding team. And we have good inside players. So I think more balance, balance is the key to being a really good offensive team. And for the most part we’ve had that. Hopefully we’ll be able to hit the 3 tomorrow, but I’ll be more concerned with just having balance.
Q. There’s been a lot of talk just about player compensation. Do you feel like the model that you guys have currently is the right model for college basketball or does it need changes or tweaks at all?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: It’s not my model that we guys have. We do what the guys tell us to do, okay? So, no, the model needs to be changed, especially in regards to what a kid and his family can do before they come to your institution because the school and the coaches have no control over that.
And I think it starts with that and a different definition of amateurism. And whatever that does, once they get there — kids get a lot right now. In the last three to four years, I’m not sure how much research you’ve done on it, but if you would compare what kids get today as compared to four years ago, it’s a dramatic improvement, dramatic — not small, dramatic.
But, again, I’d like for them to take a look at what happens before you get ’em to make sure that the kid and his family are afforded the opportunity to max out like anyone else in our country what talent will give you.
Q. I guess looking back at that meeting that you had with Syracuse back in February, how useful is the tape of that in preparing for this one?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, the game we had, we didn’t meet with them, but we had a game with them. And I thought — I didn’t think either team played well. And sometimes that happens in a grueling conference schedule. Hopefully the other team isn’t playing well and you’re playing well. But I thought we were both a little bit run down during that time.
And so I don’t think it’s a good indicator. I think I heard Marvin mention something about it, that — they’re different and we are too. They’re better. We’re better. Marvin had been out for two weeks and he just came back that day. Brissett and Dolezaj are different players for them than they were on February 24th. We’re both better teams right now.
Q. Mike, you’ve been around Jim Boeheim, you’ve been around Jim for a lot of summers. I want your best Jim Boeheim impression?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Look, I’m not Billy Crystal here or whatever. Jim Boeheim to me is my best friend in coaching and one of the really great coaches in the history of our game. And what he did to spend 11 years as — I call him my co-coach with US — was terrific. And I could not have had a better guy. That’s why I chose him and asked him three times to be that.
And so we have a bond that is very, very tight. And so do our families. So that’s the difficult part about tomorrow. But the fact that we’re both here, that’s good, that’s good. But I love Jim and his family and what he’s done for us and for the United States.
Q. Anything specific to the zone where it almost feels like he’s kind of joked about you stealing something out of his playbook?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: He doesn’t have a playbook.
Q. You’re right about that.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: No, he does not have a playbook, it’s all right here (pointing to his head).
Q. Since you’ve been through this more so than anybody, is there skill in going into this round to this weekend?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Some of it is luck. Some of it is luck and you’re healthy, you’ve got a matchup that was more conducive to you than the other guy. And sometimes, just like for us, we’re playing well. So we’re playing our best basketball.
But the zone itself, I learned a lot from Jim but also from Mike Hopkins and Jeff Capel. With the U.S., you’re with all these guys and you’re not just watching tape of Uruguay or Puerto Rico or whatever, Argentina. You’re there with Thibodeau, with Monty Williams, D’Antoni and McMillan and all these guys. And so you talk a lot about basketball.
And no one really has that opportunity. You don’t do that. And so Jim and Mike were — Mike Hopkins did an amazing job behind the scenes. So we learned a lot. We used it one time and we won a game in Madrid, against Spain, a big-time game. But we practiced it a little bit.
Q. Two things, how difficult is it to coach against a good friend when you get in the NCAA Tournament, someone has to go home? And secondly how much do you enjoy being the youngest coach in the game tomorrow?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I like the second question better. A lot younger in every aspect. But you know what, we’re both professionals. And for me, coaching against a former player who played for me or a good friend, I never look at the other sideline. It’s Duke against Syracuse and he’s going to go after us. We’re going to go after him. And we’ll be friends before and after and during.
But you wouldn’t show respect for someone you loved and had respect for by not giving your best. And so I expect his best and I know he expects that from me.
Q. What do you recall from traveling the back roads of Nebraska in 1981 and 1982, and Bill Jackman says hi?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, Bill is a great kid, and for us, we had to fly to Denver to get to Grant, Nebraska. We enjoyed it. They’re great people and we’re really good friends. And it’s a time where he felt the necessity of getting back to Nebraska for family reasons. But we’ve maintained a great friendship.
I thought he was a fantastic player and even a better person. And he’s proved to be a really good player, but he’s really fulfilled the other part of it extremely well.
Q. Michael Buckmire, walk-on, what have you seen from him and his role as a walk-on, and what does he bring to the team?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: It’s tough to get, without insulting our student body, the level of athlete that could be a walk-on on our team and Buck does that. Plus he’s smart and he played in a really good league in Philadelphia. He’s been terrific, better than I could have expected. His dad was a great soccer player at Duke. So the athleticism, I think, comes from that. But we’re happy to have him.
Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim:
COACH BOEHEIM: Great to be in this tournament. To get in here has been great tribute to our players. They’ve really worked hard all year and have really played well in this tournament.
Q. You spent a lot of time with Coach K as friends, as coaches with USA Basketball. Did your relationship change at all now that you’re in the ACC and that he has now officially, quote, borrowed your zone defense?
COACH BOEHEIM: No. It really doesn’t. We’ve been friends for over 20-some years, almost 30, really. And we’ve worked together 11 summers. And if two guys like us can work together over 11 summers and still be friends, that’s a pretty good relationship.
And his use of the zone, he’s used it a little in the past. But with this team he felt it was the right defense for this team. And that’s what I used to go through when we played both. I think he’s done a great job of using a 2-3 zone differently than we play it, but it’s really effective.
And I think it’s made a huge difference with his team with what the defense has done for his team, not just his defense but also to help, I think, his offense as well. When you’re struggling on defense it does help your offense a little bit too. He does a really great job. They play really good defense.
Q. With the way player compensation is set up, is that the right model for the sport or do you think it needs changing?
COACH BOEHEIM: I think we need to tweak it to do a better job. I think we need to do a better job of explaining what players actually get in the terms of the cost of attendance, in terms of meals now. A player can get a meal or two meals really a day and our players take their meal money. So they actually end up with a fairly good amount of money each month with that and the cost of attendance, and, if they’re eligible, five or $6,000, whatever it is, in Pell Grant money.
So I think a player can get — there’s some cost of attendance. That’s where it’s a little bit difficult, a little bit of a problem. Some places, cost of attendance it’s $6,000, other places it’s 2,000. So there’s a wide variance there, which it would be nice if that could be figured out. I don’t know if they will or not.
But I think basically players can get 12, $1,500 a month plus their full scholarship. And that’s a good model. I think we need to continue to look at that. Coaches have asked for years to do more, and for a long time they said you couldn’t do it, but then they did it with cost of attendance.
So I think hopefully there’s still some room in there to give more to the players. I think we need to stop and understand there’s 4500 players playing college basketball and about 50 of them are going to play in the NBA. The other 4400 are pretty happy, like I was, to get a full scholarship.
And as far as those 50 guys, if they don’t get money in college, they get a lot of money down the road. And the other 50 or hundred that play in Europe do all right. But the vast majority of college athletes, college basketball players, are probably happy to have a full scholarship and the cost of attendance, and leave college with a degree and a great basketball playing experience, in my estimation.
Q. 1966, your last college game was against Duke. What do you recall from that game alongside Dave Bing?
COACH BOEHEIM: We had an eight-point lead and we somehow blew the game. So it was a disheartening, disappointing game. Duke had a great team. It was one of their better teams — Jack Marin and Verga and Vacendak, they had a really good team.
We played them in Raleigh and we had a lead, I think it was about six, with about seven or eight minutes to go. And we just couldn’t quite close it out.
And a very disappointing loss that was, of course, the year of Texas Western. Duke ended up playing Kentucky in regional. Verga got sick and couldn’t play and they lost to Kentucky. I thought they were the better team. But I remember that. That’s 17.
Q. Can it help either team tomorrow night offensively going up against the zone since both teams play zone?
COACH BOEHEIM: Well, you know, a lot of teams play zone. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re necessarily going to play well against it. Duke’s a very good offensive team. They play well against man-to-man and zones. They’ve seen both all year. But they’re a very good offensive team and they’ve played well against — they play zone. That helps a little bit.
We’ve played pretty well against zones this year for the most part. We did not play well at Duke. We didn’t shoot well at Duke. They made some very bad plays. I think we’ll play better against their zone this time. But they didn’t shoot well against us there. I’m sure they’ll shoot better. But it helps somewhat. But not necessarily that much.
Q. The last time you and Duke met at the close of the regular season, Bagley and Carter go 35 and 17. What do you need to do differently defensively to try to contain them tomorrow night?
COACH BOEHEIM: They’re a problem inside for everybody. They’ve averaged right around that for the year. What they did against us wasn’t unusual. I think they averaged pretty close to that, 34, someplace in that area.
But they’re difficult down there. We have to be concerned and do a better job. Our center got in foul trouble down there. We did a good job on the perimeter shooters. That’s important.
But I think the key really for us against Duke is we have to play better than we’ve played down there than we’ve played in this tournament. I think we’re perfectly capable of playing better even though the record doesn’t look like that based on what we’ve done in the tournament. But we played against three pretty good man-to-man defensive teams, and seeing that Duke does play some man-to-man, it wouldn’t surprise me if they played man-to-man in some cases against us. But we’ll be prepared for that. But I think we’ve overall played pretty well against zones this year.
Q. I saw you on TV yesterday saying defense is beautiful. And I wondered what, maybe what factors and details and elements may be in your unusually educated view make defense —
COACH BOEHEIM: You mean my view is unusual? (Chuckling) I think defense is good. I think it’s funny about the fans and the public and the media: Everybody says defense wins games, but then when they see it they don’t like it. You know, fans and uneducated in the media and uneducated in the fandom base want to see 85-82 games, which I think there’s a beauty in that or 90 to 95 or 100.
And you can do that; you can watch the NBA and see that anytime you want to. College basketball is different. It’s always been different. You can control the game a little bit more with your defense and with your offense a little bit, too.
But there’s a good thing in watching a good defensive team. If you’re an offensive guy, then you’re not going to like it probably. But if you like defense and you see good defense — I watched Virginia’s team play and I think they’re great. I love to watch. Their defense is unbelievable. It’s fun to watch.
But if you like offense, you’re not going to like it. But we tried to play a combination of good defense and good offense this year. We just can’t do one of those two things. We’ve had many teams in the past that have played zone. But we’ve averaged 80 points a game. We just aren’t good on that end of the court. Where we struggle is on that end. On defense, if you like defense, it’s good to watch. But our offense has struggled and that gets difficult sometimes. I don’t like to watch it sometimes.
Q. This is the second time in a row that you guys have hit the second weekend as a double-digit seed. Obviously no one plans for that. No one aspires to that. You want to get the highest seed. I get that. But at the same time, is there something in regards to attitude and outlook or even in regards to style of play where you are somewhat well-suited being, at least seed-wise, the underdog?
COACH BOEHEIM: I think we struggled this year, for good reason, with our offense in a good league. And we just couldn’t — we were close to winning two or three more games we just couldn’t get it done. But it means to me that if you lose in overtime Florida State, you lose a close game to Virginia, you lose to Carolina at home by two or three, you’re still a pretty good team.
When you get in the tournament you’re still a pretty good ’em. And we could have lost at the buzzer against Arizona State. They had a three from the corner. If they had, we would have been home and nobody would have talked about us at all. But we squeezed that at all and got by TCU and Michigan State, so we’re here.
So we had the capability of that. We just were not able to get it done in the regular season. Two years, when we made it to the Final Four, we were a little better offensive team. When we got in the tournament we played better offensively.
This year our defense has carried us without question. But that other team we had two guys that are in the NBA on that team. Malachi and Tyler Lydon I guess better offensive team in those two seniors at the guard spot. So this team’s much younger, much more challenged on the defensive end. Our zone helps us a little bit in back-to-back games or with a team that hasn’t played against us.
And a lot of teams have not played against zones; or if they play against the zone, it’s not a good zone. So there’s some teams that will come in with a false sense of security, well, we played against zones and we did well. But it’s different. Our zone is a little different. It’s better. It’s just better because we work on it, play it more. Duke’s defense has gotten better this year, their zone, because they’ve worked on it and played it more. So that might be a factor in the tournament that can help us particularly in back-to-back games when you have one day to prepare.
Those are some of the probably reasons that we can do that. But you’ve still got to make plays and our team has made plays down the stretch, even in the regular season we made a lot of good plays in games to either win or to give us a chance to win.
So I like this team. They give you everything they’ve got. I don’t think there’s many teams that have — we have four of our five front-line guys are freshmen and the other guy’s redshirt and sat out a year so he hasn’t really played a full season. So it’s unusual to have that many young guys in your front line unless you’re at Duke or Kentucky. Those players are a little different.
Q. I was going to ask about ’66. So I’ll test your memory here and lean on it a bit, see if you have any recollections of the ’98 tournament game against Duke in St. Petersburg?
COACH BOEHEIM: We hung in there for a while but they made some long ones. The freshman from Georgia made some really long 3s and we hung around. But they won the game pretty easily is what I remember. That’s probably why I don’t remember it very well.
Q. Just the way things broke, three teams from the ACC get here. It’s pretty uncommon at a regional to have three from one conference. What’s your thoughts just on how things broke with three of your league teams getting in here?
COACH BOEHEIM: It happens. I talked to the committee a little bit about that by accident today. When you get a large number of teams in one conference, they’re going to meet up if they can get through. And I never liked to play teams that I played in the tournament. And I think it’s better for us when we don’t.
But we have done it in the past and we’ve won those games. But I guess the good news is we’ll have one team from our league in the Elite Eight for sure and maybe two. It’s what happens. And today, trust me, when I got in I didn’t care where we were going or who we were playing or what day it was. We were happy to be in the tournament this year.
Obviously it was close. I thought our strength of schedule was good, and I thought we were right there. But last year we were right there, too, and we were on the other side.
We were one place different last year and it just goes to show you that when you can get in it, the bubble, you’re certainly capable of winning games. And that has only increased — that likelihood has only increased over the last few years when you have so many very good teams.
It used to be, if you were on a bubble, you probably couldn’t win anyway. But now those teams can win. And there’s more than a couple teams that are on the bubble. I know whenever I talk like this people just get crazy and I get criticized everywhere in the country. But I’m used to that, so it doesn’t bother me.
But I’ve always advocated for more teams from when it was 64 to 68. And the playoff system that we have this year, when we go and play, I think you could duplicate that in another regional and get a couple more teams in or four more teams in, whatever the number is.
And I just think that when you give fan bases and players that opportunity to go play, even if you don’t win, you had that opportunity. And I just I think it’s a great thing, because if it hadn’t gone from 64 to 68 we wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be here now. And so it’s been — it’s even better when you’re not — you squeeze in and you can still get here.
When I started coaching, if you didn’t make the Sweet 16, it wasn’t even a big deal. You had — like you had to make the Sweet 16 or else it was just awful.
Now making the Sweet 16 is a very good thing, I don’t care who you are. I don’t care if you’re — I mean, obviously the 1 and 2 seeds expect it, but it’s still a good thing to get to the Sweet 16, because it’s pretty darn hard to do. So we’re thrilled to have that opportunity to be here.