Friedlander: New coach, new players, familiar result for ACC Tournament champion Duke
GREENSBORO, NC – Something old, something new; Something borrowed, something blue.
No, there weren’t any weddings held at Greensboro Coliseum on Saturday.
But there was 1 heck of a celebration. One that’s summed up accurately by the above mentioned phrase.
Something old is the influence Mike Krzyzewski still has over the program he built while becoming the winningest coach in college basketball history.
Something new is his successor, Jon Scheyer.
Something borrowed is the method with which the Blue Devils dispatched of Virginia in the ACC Tournament final, beating the Cavaliers at their own game with a stifling defensive effort.
And something blue is, well, the color of the confetti that was shot from the cannons at the final buzzer of Duke’s championship-clinching 59-49 win.
This new era of Blue Devils basketball sure looks a lot like the old one.
Maybe not in style or personality.
But in results.
Duke’s championship was its 22nd, extending its own ACC record, and its 8th here in Greensboro.
It was also the 1st for Scheyer, who joined fellow Blue Devil Vic Bubas in 1960 and North Carolina’s Bill Guthridge in 1998 as the only coaches in league history to raise the championship trophy in his rookie season at his school. He’s also the 1st former tournament MVP to lead a team to a title as a coach.
As satisfying as Saturday’s victory, it meant even more because of the controversial finish that cost Duke a chance at beating the Cavaliers in Charlottesville on Feb. 11.
The 4th-seeded Blue Devils dropped that game in overtime. But they haven’t lost since. Their 3-game tournament run, which began with victories against Pittsburgh and top-seeded Miami, is the continuation of a streak that has now grown to 9 straight.
“I’m proud of our team,” Scheyer said. “We’ve just grown and grown throughout the whole season. What’s special for me in this tournament (is that we) played three really good teams but also three different styles.
“Pitt is a great 3-point shooting team, Miami is one of the most athletic teams in our league but also the country. They really pressure the ball. And obviously Virginia is tough as can be, slower paced, they grind you. To prepare for them in 24 hours and to defend them the way that we did, it’s a credit to these guys and their focus and their fight on the defensive end.”
There were plenty of questions about his preparedness for the job when he was named to succeed Krzyzewski in June 2021. And it was a calculated risk putting such an elite program in the hands of a 35-year-old 1st-time head coach.
Even 1 groomed by the winningest coach the college game has ever seen.
But Scheyer never seemed intimidated by the challenge he accepted, even when things didn’t go according to plan right away.
FLIP STEAL & SCORE‼️ TO ⚔️.
— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) March 12, 2023
As important a role as those players had in the season-long growth that culminated in the Blue Devils cutting down the nets Saturday, especially the leadership of junior captain Jeremy Roach and the stellar play of ACC Tournament MVP Kyle Filipowski, Scheyer was the binder that held everything together.
And yet, even as he celebrated the greatest triumph of his young career, Scheyer deflected at least some of the credit for the success to his Hall of Fame predecessor.
“I’m not sure any of this happens without Coach K’s initial vision of wanting to see the program continue on at such a high level,” he said. “And he wanted it.”
Cut that net down Coach!!!!!
— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) March 12, 2023
He built an almost entirely new roster by bringing in 5 talented freshmen and 2 transfers to put around holdovers Roach and Jaylen Blakes. He spent most of the preseason stressing defense and toughness, knowing that it would take his young team longer to develop an identity on offense.
And he always stayed true to himself, doing things his own way rather than attempting to be a carbon copy of his mentor and former coach.
His confidence, both in himself and his players, set a tone that helped carry the Blue Devils through an early rash of injuries and some growing pains on the road to peak at just the right time and become 1 of the nation’s hottest teams heading into the NCAA Tournament.
In doing so, he has set himself up to defy the odds and succeed where others who have tried to follow a legend have failed. And where Hubert Davis, his counterpart at UNC, has struggled other than 1 good month last March.
“All I can tell you is ever since I’ve been young, I’m talking real young, I’ve believed I was going to succeed. That my team was going to win,” he said. “It didn’t always win, but I found a way at really every level. Whether it was unrealistic or not, that’s how I felt.
“When you look at the plan that was in place, when you look at the people who are making those decisions, the support that I felt, that’s what gave me the confidence.”
It’s a confidence that’s helped the former Duke point guard kickstart a new era of Blue Devils basketball with a distinctly old-school celebration.