The Tobacco Road rivalry is the biggest in college basketball. Bar none, end of discussion. As much as we like to believe that the games played between North Carolina and Duke supersede all bonds of family and national pride, it turns out that two of the men at the heart of the game’s most vituperative regional clash have plenty of respect for one another, and know when to put the rivalry aside in favor of reaching a bigger goal.
The Harvard Business Review, of all publications, brings us the inside story of Mike Krzyzewski’s rise to the helm of Team USA. The periodical interviewed Jerry Colangelo — the former GM of the Phoenix Suns, who was brought in to run the red, white and blue squad in 2005 — and got a fascinating look at the internal process that led to Coach K’s selection.
In a room full of basketball legends like Michael Jordan, Chuck Daley, Larry Bird, Jerry West and Lenny Wilkens, it was the man who had personally suffered hair-tearing losses to the Duke Blue Devils who emerged as the persuasive voice of reason.
Armed with an agreed-upon set of qualities, Colangelo was now comfortable soliciting candidate names from the group. He gave specific instructions to nominate potential coaches only if they fit the just-established requirements. “A bunch of names went on the white board, all with stellar win-loss records. We talked about each one, weighing the pros and cons,” Colangelo told me.
At one point during the debate, Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith of UNC—soft-spoken off the court—voiced “loud support” for Mike Krzyzewski, better known as Coach K, head coach of Duke University. As Colangelo told this story, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to set me straight, “You’re from Louisville and you think that the Louisville/Kentucky game is a big deal and a big rivalry. But that’s nothing compared to the rivalry when UNC plays Duke. They play for blood. So when Coach Smith told us that no one will connect with and motivate the players like Coach K, the whole crowd was silent. That was a big moment for all of us.”
Some of the Carolina Blue faithful may consider Smith’s advocacy to be dark heresy, but there’s no arguing with the results. Team USA, coming off of a series of humiliating international losses, is now a two-time gold medal winning institution under Krzyzewski. As we learned from The Wire: game recognize game. Which worked out pretty well for the nation’s hoops aspirations.
Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.
Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.
They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.
The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.
They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.
West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.
Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.
The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.
The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.
That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.
The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?
The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.
They were going to slip up eventually.
And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.