Mike Krzyzewski was named national Coach of the Year in 1999 because voters were lazy. His team won 37 times and went 16-0 in the ACC and reached the national championship game, but give me a break. That team had three straight ACC Players of the Year -- Elton Brand, Chris Carrawell and Shane Battier -- and a fourth All-American (Trajan Langdon), plus a first-round NBA Draft pick at point guard (William Avery) and, by the way, future NBA scoring machine Corey Maggette coming off the bench.
Coach of the Year? Krzyzewski? You could have won 37 games with that bunch.
|Hey, you gotta hand it to Coach K this season. (US Presswire)|
Let's get back to the present, and to the point. This season, Duke doesn't have a Laettner or a Brand or a Battier. No Langdon. No Maggette. No Hurley. Not much of anything. But Duke does have a 22-2 record. Which means Duke does have the leading candidate for national Coach of the Year.
I know, I know. The timing for this argument looks all wrong. For one thing, as many of you will tell me later this week in Hate Mail, it's never a good time to advocate an award for Krzyzewski. For another, Duke is coming off a 13-point loss Sunday at Wake Forest. You're going to tell me that loss proves Krzyzewski isn't worthy of Coach of the Year.
I'd argue the opposite point, that the loss to Wake Forest is the exception that proves the rule: This Duke team is overachieving on a grand scale.
This isn't Krzyzewski's best team, not by a long shot. On the continuum of depth and talent, the 2007-08 Blue Devils are probably one of the most unimpressive teams he has had in the last decade.
But they're 22-2 overall. They're 10-1 in the ACC. They're ranked No. 5 in the country.
And they're not that good. But they are that good. Which means that, this season, Krzyzewski has been ridiculously good.
Not that anybody should be shocked. Krzyzewski is at his best in two situations:
One, when he has three times as much talent as everybody else. Give him Laettner-Hurley-Hill or Brand-Battier-Langdon or Jay Williams-Carlos Boozer-Mike Dunleavy, and he's going to get to the Final Four. Don't give Krzyzewski too much credit for winning games he should, but give him this: Some coaches would have screwed up that sort of talent, and Bill Self, you know who are.
Two, Krzyzewski is at his best when he's backed into a corner. Take away his options, give him enough to get by but not enough to dominate, and he turns feral. I don't know if he works harder or smarter or just plain meaner, but he's at his best with one hand tied behind his back. While everyone looks away, Krzyzewski uses his free hand to grab a sledgehammer.
The most obvious example was 2001, when Boozer -- Duke's only established big man -- broke a foot five days before Duke's annual trip to North Carolina. Coach K retired to his bat cave and concocted a plan that made no sense at all. Instead of cobbling together what limited pieces he had to stay big, he got even smaller -- replacing Boozer with a 6-foot-4 receiver from the football team named Reggie Love, and replacing 6-6 senior Nate James with 6-1 freshman Chris Duhon.