Duke wins PK80, playing with fire and taunting foes with comeback victories
The Blue Devils won another game despite trailing big late. How to explain? Bagley, Bagley, Bagley
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Duke has zero business being unbeaten at this point.
Mike Krzyzewski knows it. He's not saying it, but his giddy smile at the postgame press conference Sunday night told all. The Blue Devils came back from a 17-point second half deficit vs. Florida to win 87-84 and take the PK 80 Motion bracket. It was a back breaker for a fun Florida team that played well enough to take the championship but couldn't.
"I think they can beat anybody," Krzyzewski said.
He's right. But it didn't matter Sunday because leads against Duke seem to have no meaning this season.
"We couldn't get the shots to fall because we didn't have any legs left," he said.
After Chiozza left the dais, Gators coach Mike White disagreed.
Duke's rally against the Gators came two days removed from the Blue Devils flipping the script on Texas after losing by 16 in the second half. Coach K's club had no business winning that game, either.
On Thursday, Duke trailed Portland State nearly midway through the second half.
Deficits? Pssh. Whatever. A squad burdened by freshmen isn't crippled by falling behind. A team without the typical Duke feature of 3-point shooters can hit just enough treys to chip into leads against probable NCAA Tournament clubs. A group that's trying to figure out how to implement a zone is stubbornly sticking with it, falling behind -- then abandoning the concept for man-to-man and using that ace in the hole to punch back to victory. There is no rational explanation for any of this.
Except that Duke has Marvin Bagley III.
He is the only reason this team's clinging to its No. 1 ranking. The 6-foot-10 freshman had his second successive game with at least 30 points and 15 rebounds. He puts shame to the phrase "he makes it look easy."
Will give credit where it's due, to fellow freshmen Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval. Trent's defense -- he had a huge on-ball steal when Florida could have taken the lead with less than a minute remaining -- was a shocking but clutch play. Duval ... well, here's what Krzyzewski said about him.
"Trevon ... when a player can change during a game, he's special," Krzyzewski said.
But without Bagley on this team, Duke would look so different. Alien to what we know now. Bagley's numbers are stupid (22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 63 percent from 2-point range) and he's efficient to the point of already threatening to put up historic stats (for a freshman) this season. Strangely, his style makes it seem like a taunt. He's effortless; it's as if we haven't seen him hit his fourth or fifth gear yet.
Krzyzewski talked after each game here in Portland about how young this team is, how it's still finding itself. OK ... so that means we're going to get something even more dominant from Bagley down the road? If this is the first phase, look out.
"I don't have a vision right now," Krzyzewski said in regard to Bagley's potential for growth. "We tell our guys all the time: Forget about what was and forget what will be. Just concentrate on now. That's really what's been our mantra. ... God bless that we've been healthy, which is completely opposite of last year. This kid's special and he's a great teammate and he's really at Duke the most unique kid I've coached."
When Bagley was asked if he ever thinks about the other route he could have taken, to have not reclassified and instead kept on track with his senior season in high school, Krzyzewski chimed in with a grin on his face.
"I think about it a lot," he said.
He knows how lucky Duke is to have Bagley right now. It's a really good team but also a lucky one, to an extent. Florida went cold. Texas tightened up. Duke had Marvin.
This team's got talent, is also young, and I guess that's just not a thing that matters? But come on: Duke's not going to be able to sustain this pattern. The Blue Devils are flirting with fire and seem to like the temptation of the burn. No damage to the skin yet, though. But it's coming. No player is that good, and Bagley can't be bailing out this team every night.
"They've got two guys that, a lot of nights, are going to demand a double," White said, meaning Bagley and Allen.
Yet Allen has been merely OK for most of this season. He had only one basket in the second half -- a timely 3-pointer -- but finished with 14 points, seven assists and four turnovers. He has been good, but it's not as though he's carrying the same load as Bagley. Combine the.
There is another way to look at this, and I would be foolish not to acknowledge it: Duke has dodged land mines on the way to 8-0 ... so what happens when things really start clicking? Duke's been erratically good. What if this is the worst we see of this crew? If Duke's going to lose, it should be losing to Texas and Florida. This has the makings of an improbable season, dating back to when Bagley committed in mid-August.
That's when everything changed for Krzyzewski. A sixth national title's on the table because he got Bagley to reclassify.
The first few weeks of the season normally give numerous examples of teams finding ways to lose. Portland alone gave us such evidence with Florida, Texas and Ohio State. Instead, Duke has a stubbornness to it that is starting to feel special.
Conventional college basketball law seems not to apply with this team. Not yet, and with Bagley, maybe not most nights. PK 80 champs. Deficits, freshmen, zone defense and probability be damned.
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