Duke's Coach K has a simple explanation for how his Blue Devils are able to be so good so early
No.1 Duke does it again as it demolishes San Diego State in the Maui Invitational
Duke was always going to be great.
But this great?
That's the remarkable thing about the Blue Devils through four games -- that they're this great this early. Because teams relying this heavily on first-year players -- the Blue Devils start four freshmen -- usually need time to figure things out. But Duke has had no such issues. The Blue Devils opened with a 118-84 shellacking of a Kentucky team that's ranked in the top 10. Then they beat Army 94-72. Then they beat Eastern Michigan 84-46. And then, on Monday, they absolutely dismantled a pretty good San Diego State team, 90-64, in their first game of the Maui Invitational here inside the Lahaina Civic Center.
"We played well," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski -- and I believe he's used some version of that phrase in nearly every postgame press conference so far this season because Duke has consistently played well despite its youth and the fact that it is, you know, not even Thanksgiving.
So I asked Krzyzewski why.
Why does he think things are going so well so early when they often don't for teams built this way?
"These guys are really good basketball players because they're not positional," Krzyzewski answered. "If you're positional, you usually get anxious to touch the ball to score because you don't know how many times you're going to touch it. But when it's position-less, you're touching the ball and you're [just] playing basketball -- and that's our team this year. So the ball finds the best shot. And they like that. Because they're basketball players. And their futures will be fine whether they average 18 or 14. So that helps us — and the fact that we have four guys who can bring the ball up the court on a defensive rebound or a steal."
I've been to two of Duke's four games so far this season, and that last point is a point I've now heard Krzyzewski make twice. It is, in his estimation, the thing that makes his team, at times, completely overwhelming -- how it doesn't matter whether Tre Jones, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish or Zion Williamson gets a defensive rebound or steal because all of them are skilled enough to just grab it and go and eventually make a play.
"We do have explosive ability," Krzyzewski acknowledged. "If we can get a steal or get a defensive rebound, with our ball-handlers, they're very good in transition. They almost always make the right play. And I'm not sure how many teams have that many ball-handers [on the court at the same time]. … So I hope we can get [transition opportunities] every game -- because then it's over. It's over, you know? Our team, if they do that, has the ability to knock a team out."
And then there's this ...
"They're over themselves," Krzyzewski said of his four freshmen. "They're very secure. They've been parented well. They've been coached well. So they understand [how to be a] part of something bigger than themselves — [all while] still be very good [individually]. … They're really a pleasure to coach."
But a pain to play against.
Auburn will be the next to find out.
That's who the top-ranked Blue Devils will play in Tuesday's first semifinal that's scheduled to tip at 8 p.m ET -- and, to be clear, Auburn isn't likely to go quietly considering the Tigers are ranked eighth in the AP poll and led by six of the top eight scorers who were on last season's squad that won an SEC regular-season title. Bruce Pearl's team is good.
But Coach K's team is special -- and we were reminded of that Monday.
Barrett, Williamson, Reddish and Jones combined for 63 points while San Diego State's entire team only scored 64. The Blue Devils led by 35 before Krzyzewski emptied the bench the way Alabama's Nick Saban usually does. And at this point, it's fair to wonder, if that's going to happen in Duke games this season more often than it doesn't.
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