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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

"C" is for condescension, "K" is for lucky with Coach K

BATON ROUGE – Had Gordon Hayward’s Hail Mary heave from half court at the buzzer hit home – and it almost did - Monday night, Butler would be seen by most as a very lucky national champion today, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski would know a little bit about what it's like to be Guy Lewis.

Instead Duke and Coach K won the national championship 61-59, but they are clearly no less lucky than Butler would have been as a 62-61 winner thanks to a Coach K miscalculation.

Hayward’s shot would have been the greatest in NCAA Tournament history – clearing Duke’s Christian Laettner’s foul-line jumper to beat Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional final, Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew’s 3-pointer to beat Ole Miss in the first round in 1998 and North Carolina State’s Lorenzo Charles’ rebound and dunk to shock Houston and Lewis in the 1983 national championship game.

It would have even beaten the movies. It would have been life not only imitating art, but slam dunking it to shreds. Jimmy Chitwood hit a top of the key jumper for Hickory High to beat South Bend Central 42-40 in the “Hoosiers” film, which was loosely based on Milan beating Muncie Central 32-30 in the 1954 all-classes Indiana state title game on a jumper by Bobby Plump from the top of the key. Hayward’s shot would have outdistanced Chitwood’s and Plump’s put together. All three shots took place at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the Butler campus in Indianapolis, which was the site of the 2010 Final Four but at Lucas Oil Stadium. How wild is that?

Sadly, it was all just too good to be true, particularly the part about the could-have-been colossal goof by Coach K, the condescension national champion for all seasons. During the portion of the press conference Monday night reserved for players, Duke's Brian Zoubek was asked about his up-and-down career. Krzyzewski rudely interrupted to say Zoubek did not have an up-and-down career, rather an injury-plagued career. Uh, actually he did have an up-and-down career because of injury.

Finally, Coach K let Zoubek talk, and Zoubek couldn't resist.

"I can say something," he said.

Yes, the almighty one granted Zoubek the power of speech.

Krzyzewski, who never comes out and says it but subtly lets you know he knows all at every opportunity, ordered Brian Zoubek to miss the second of two free throws with 3.6 seconds to play. Zoubek made the first one for the 61-59 lead and missed the second one on purpose as he was told. Coach K’s strategy was that the bouncing missed free throw would kill valuable seconds and force Butler – if it got the rebound which it did - to scramble to get in position for a shot as it was out of timeouts. Had Zoubek made the second free throw for a 62-59 lead, Butler would have had the opportunity to take a breath and inbound with 3.6 seconds to play.

That’s plenty of time for a length-of-the-court pass. There was just 2.1 seconds to go in that Duke-Kentucky game when Grant Hill inbounded to Laettner. Or Butler could have rolled the ball up the court if uncontested to save time. Coach K's strategy made some sense because Butler did only have enough time for Hayward’s desperation shot, but the problem is Duke led only by two. A desperation shot gone good would have won it for Butler. A less desperate but still unlikely shot from 3-point range after a made free throw would have just tied it.

What Coach K should have done was let Zoubek make the free throw for a 62-59 lead, then foul Butler immediately upon the inbounds pass. This would have resulted in just two free throws for Butler. Butler can’t win. Duke gets the ball back after the free throws and runs out the clock or is fouled. This is precisely how Butler edged Michigan State 52-50 on Saturday.

After the game, even Zoubek said he should have made the second free throw.

“They got off a bad shot, not a good one,” Zoubek said. “It almost went in, should have gone in, though.”

Krzyzewski did not give a very good explanation of his strategy. In fact he sounded a bit like LSU football coach Les Miles trying to explain his inner clock malfunction in the Ole Miss game last season.

“If he (Zoubek) missed (the second free throw), I thought it would take a miracle shot, you know,” he said. “Well it almost did, but we were set up to guard it.”

But Duke did not guard Hayward well. He dribbled freely and took an open, though very long, shot.

If Zoubek makes the free throw, it would have taken a “miracle” matriculation down the court and shot as well just to tie – not win. And Duke would have also been “set up to guard it” after getting set for the inbounds pass.

At this point, Krzyzewski seemed to realize his explanation was not really working and changed the subject to a screen by Butler’s Matt Howard that knocked Duke’s Kyle Singler violently to the floor and allowed Hayward to get open on that last play. Singler went flying, but it was a legal screen. Replays show Howard upright like a statue as Hayward dribbles around him. If the screener is stationary, it doesn’t matter how hard the player screened falls. Coach K knows this, but he cried foul.

“They’re not going to call it at that time, but Kyle got killed at half court,” Krzyzewski whined. “So they wouldn’t have got it without that.”

Whatever. Keep reaching, Coach K. You know you were almost 3-5 in national title games.

Then he goes out of his way to praise a sportswriter for noticing Howard’s expert screen. “Pretty good for a press guy to see that stuff,” he said.

Uh, Coach K, I saw the screen on TV. I wasn't there. Surely many writers actually there saw it, too. How stupid do you think those who aren’t you are?

Then he started repeating himself.

“But they would have had to take a half court shot,” Coach K said. “And we were set up to guard that.”

Finally, he gave up.

“And, you know, what the hell? It worked,” he said.

Wow! Coach K does not usually place results over process. When the process is poor yet the result is good, you just got lucky.

Since when does almighty, cerebral Coach K say, “What the hell?”

What’s he doing? Just rolling out the basketballs like Lewis now and letting it ride?

“I mean, you know, we called timeouts at different times that, you know, you wouldn’t normally call timeouts because of being tired,” he said. “We left guys in. I mean, this was a game where things were not, like, by the book necessarily. You know, you had to do things instinctive because guys were fighting so hard, so …”

And, you know, he changed the subject again.

"I'm just glad we're not sitting here talking about how I lost the game," Zoubek said.

The talk would not have been about you losing the game, Zoubek. Please insert a "K" where the "I" is above, and you'll know what I mean.

If Duke would have lost, it would have been on a lucky shot heard 'round the world. But Coach K got just as lucky, and He knows it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good article on Coach K, I just wish you would give the Big 12 its dues instead of overly focusing on you know which conference, you are the Coach K of the SEC writers, so bias its pathetic.

2:47 PM  

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