Once Coach K passes Knight, nobody’s passing him

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UPDATE: Tuesday was the night. Congrats to Coach K.

There’s no guarantee Mike Krzyzewski’s record-breaking 903rd career victory happens Tuesday night. No. 6 Duke is only a six-point favorite against Michigan State, which might be why he’s downplayed the game a bit the last few days. (Then again, that’s also his style.)

But that win will happen soon. If not Tuesday, it’ll be Friday against Davidson. Then Coach K will pass his former coach, Bob Knight, as the all-time wins leader among D-I coaches – and just keep right on going.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? Krzyzewski will eventually set a record that far surpasses any number Knight, Adolph Rupp or Dean Smith approached. (Pat Summit is another story.)

He’s headed for 1,000 wins, easy.

Coach K’s been headed there for years. When he won his 700th game in 2004, Bill Brill projected the Devils’ icon to reach 925 wins by February of 2012. (Yeah, Bill knew his stuff.) He’ll hit that mark and just keeping winning.

He’s 64, but Krzyzewski doesn’t seem anywhere near retirement. He’s a year removed from his fourth national title, had the nation’s No. 1 team for part of last season and again has the Devils ranked in the top 10. Part of that’s because of his maniacal focus on Duke’s game-by-game improvement. Few programs play more consistently over an entire season.

That’s how he approaches every game. Seems to have worked.

“I’d rather go out and try to win this game for the right reasons, and the residual is you get 903,” Krzyzewski said. “I mean, that’s another perk you get from it. That’s not the perk. The perk is beating Michigan State, going 3-0 and becoming a better team. And then things add up.

“I’m good about not making it that big of a thing, even though I know it’s a big thing. I’m not minimizing it.”

But his longevity also comes from his ability to adapt to changes in college hoops. Some coaches don’t recruit well into their 60s. Not Coach K.

So consider him a lock to continue winning 29 games a season (his average total every season from the last 10 years) until he retires. Say he coaches until he’s 69. (Another four seasons after this one.) That’s about 145 victories, placing him at 1,050 career victories.

That might just be impossible to beat.

As Luke DeCock from the Raleigh News & Observer notes, plenty of coaches are already chasing him, but few will have everything fall into place to come close. Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and UConn’s Jim Calhoun aren’t far behind Krzyzewski’s total, but both are older. Boeheim thinks West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has the best shot, but even 25 wins a season for 12 more years would place Huggins shy of 1,000.

Guys like North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Gonzaga’s Mark Few have better career win percentages, but got started too late in their careers to make a charge for Coach K.

That leaves the young guns.

Kansas’ Bill Self (445 wins at age 48) and Florida’s Billy Donovan (396 wins at age 46) are on pace, but need to continue racking up 30-win seasons for another 20 years. DeCock estimates Butler’s Brad Stevens would be 66 by the time he hit 900 wins.

(shakes head)

That’s the thing with Krzyzewski. Not only has he crushed it with the NCAA tournament – that run of seven Final Fours in a nine-year stretch is astounding – and in the ACC, but he’s done it at a remarkable rate for his entire career.

He’s a one-of-a-kind coach. That’s why he’s making this record unattainable until another Coach K comes along. Might be a long, long time though.

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