NCAA Notebook: Battle of Titans II, Coach K vs. Rick Pitino
Whatever happens today in the Midwest Regional final between No. 1 Louisville and No. 2 Duke, chances are someone won’t write an entire book about it.
That wasn’t the case the only other time Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski coached against each other in the NCAA Tournament. Later, Gene Wojciechowski wrote a New York Times bestseller about it, “The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds that Changed Basketball.”
In a 1992 Elite Eight game that is considered one of the best college basketball games ever, Christian Laettner took a three-quarter court inbounds pass from Grant Hill and made a buzzer-beater to give Duke a 104-103 overtime win over Pitino-led Kentucky.
“I think it was such a high-scoring game with so much perfection in the way the players passed and shot the ball, that’s what made it stand the test of time,” Pitino said Saturday. “It wasn’t a slowdown game. It was a game where two coaches could sit back and watch great players perform at the highest level.”
Krzyzewski said he didn’t realize how significant the game would be at the time, but he would always remember the difference in emotions at the end.
“Because really right in front of me Richie Farmer collapsed, and I see our guys jump and I see him fall,” Krzyzewski said. “And I understood by looking at him — I could never understand completely, because it didn’t happen to me — but just how tough that was.”
Most players in Sunday’s game weren’t alive for Laettner’s shot, but they’ve seen the replays that come every March.
“Obviously it has become one of the faces of our program, that play,” Duke senior Ryan Kelly said. “It has led to some amazing things for the Duke program. It has almost created this family atmosphere around that play. It is the face of college basketball, it is the shot of college basketball in the NCAA tournament and they aren’t many that can beat that.”
COMING SOON TO ACC
Duke and Louisville have played just once since the Cardinals beat the Blue Devils in the 1986 NCAA Tournament final. That was four months ago, when Duke won the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
The teams will meet much more frequently starting in 2014-15, when Louisville is scheduled to replace Maryland in the ACC. Three other NCAA Tournament regulars from the Big East — Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame — will join next season.
”It makes us the most powerful basketball conference, I think, ever,” Krzyzewski said.
The additions should bring more competition to the top of the ACC, where Duke and UNC are the only conference schools to make a Final Four since 2004, while increasing the league’s depth. Only four ACC teams made the NCAAs this season, the eighth time in 15 seasons that the conference has had four or fewer teams selected.
Krzyzewski said the league should look into developing its own TV network, deciding when and where to play the conference tournament, and figuring out how teams should schedule so that they’re worthy of NCAA Tournament consideration.
“In other words, to take a real close look at our league with the new members and say, ‘Why are we different, why are we better, and how can we be the top league?’’” Krzyzewski said. “And if we don’t do that, then we’re negligent, to be quite frank with you.
“Our league was founded on basketball, and that doesn’t mean football isn’t important. I like it. I want it to be great. But I want ACC basketball to be the best. And we have a chance to do that again.”
DIENG IN MIDDLE
A key player who was missing when Duke beat Louisville 76-71 in the Bahamas last November will be flexing his muscles in today’s rematch.
A shoulder injury kept Louisville center Gorgui Dieng off the court on Nov. 24, but he’s played well since recovering.
Dieng, a 6-11, 245-pound junior from Senegal, averaged 10 points and 9.5 rebounds this season.
“He’s one of the best players in the country,” Krzyzewski said. “I think it helps their defense to have a great rim protector, because they hit you with different defenses and you can be even more aggressive knowing that your rim is protected. I think any team in the country would love to have him.”
Duke center Mason Plumlee said Dieng is a concern on both ends of the court. But after battling guys like Miami’s 270-pound Reggie Johnson and Creighton’s mammoth Greg Echenique this season, Plumlee sounded confident to be facing Dieng.
“I think he does the best job on their team of protecting the rim, obviously blocking shots but also altering shots,” Plumlee said. “And then offensively he gets buckets around the rim and then he has a nice little face-up jump shot.
“I think he gives them a different dimension, but he’s not one of those guys that are 260, 270 where they can just move you on the block.”
DUKE'S ELITE SUCCESS
Duke will play in an NCAA Tournament regional final for the 13th time under Krzyzewski today.
The Blue Devils are 11-1 in Elite Eight games during Krzyzewski’s tenure, with the lone loss coming in 1998 to Kentucky. Since then, Duke has won regional finals to reach the Final Four in 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2010.
Duke is 16-2 all time in regional finals.