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Late-season Twists Typical Krzyzewski

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

  March 1, 2004

DURHAM — The day after Duke took care of Maryland in relatively easy fashion, coach Mike Krzyzewksi announced the Blue Devils would take a short break before preparing for non-conference foe Valparaiso. “Mentally, they're fine,” Krzyzewski said of his players. “Physically, I think they're a little bit worn out from the season.”

Even though his teams have dominated the regular season in recent years, the results of the games played before March have never been the highest priority to Krzyzewski. He always has one eye on the NCAA Tournament, because that's where he earns his paycheck.

Duke looked like the most powerful team in the nation as it won 18 consecutive games, but two straight losses in a span of four days in mid-February proved the Blue Devils were not unbeatable. The road losses against N.C. State and Wake Forest gave Krzyzewski all the information he needed to begin tinkering with his machine.

As Duke recovered from its losing streak with two straight wins, it also began to take on the form opponents are likely to see in the games leading into the ACC Tournament and beyond.

Little-used big man Nick Horvath began to see more playing time immediately after the N.C. State loss, and the trend continued in the Blue Devils' blowouts of Maryland and Valparaiso. Duke's lineup had been limited almost exclusively to seven players for most of the season, a strategy that had served it well enough to attain a No. 1 national ranking. But Krzyzewski knows that more able bodies mean a better chance of advancing to the Final Four.

Horvath, a senior, has never been more than a role player. The primary rationale for making him more of a factor lies not with his abilities, but those of freshman forward Luol Deng.

Deng might be Duke's most skilled player, but his role in the offense as a power forward has been to roam the baseline waiting for a penetrator to dish or for an offensive rebound to come off the rim. With Horvath in the game along with either Shelden Williams or Shavlik Randolph, Deng is moved to the position of swingman and can post up, face up or shoot over smaller defenders.

“Mostly, when I was defended by a bigger guy, I could come out on the perimeter and use my quickness off the dribble,” Deng said. “Now that smaller guys are guarding me, I'm looking to post up or curl around a screen to get open.”

Deng's new, more dynamic duties also leave room for reserve Lee Melchionni to spell the talented freshman at the small forward position. All of a sudden, the Blue Devils come at you with nine players instead of seven.

Krzyzewski also is starting to prod his charges with the purpose of making them peak at the right time. Randolph, who has been buried on the bench, is beginning to maximize his production in the precious few minutes he is called upon to make a difference in the lane and on defense.

“The last two games watching Shav play, it's almost like he's a different player,” Krzyzewski said after beating Maryland. “He's being much more athletic, putting the ball on the floor. He's defending better. He's not just playing like a big guy. He's just playing like a basketball player. He can give us more than we even know, as long as he stays in that mode.”

Krzyzewski uses the schedule as a tool to put the Blue Devils in a different state of mind at this time of year. The coach subscribes to the theory that a late-season non-conference game against a school like Valparaiso gives his players a wider world view.

“What we've tried to do over the years is get ourselves ready for the NCAA Tournament,” Krzyzewski said. “You can do that in a variety of ways. One way is being in a tough conference like we are. Then to try to play somebody who might play you different, play a different system, has an NCAA pedigree … I just think that helps us during this time.”

It certainly gave Duke a jolt of confidence. The Blue Devils' defense had come under fire in their two ACC losses, but the Duke players were so physically superior to their counterparts from Valparaiso that it seemed the Crusaders had little chance of completing a pass while running their regular offense.

If Duke can duplicate that formula for the final month of the season, it will be tough to stop before San Antonio. Most of the pieces already were in place — senior leadership from point guard Chris Duhon, scoring from shooting guard J.J. Redick, and the bruising inside play of Willams at center — but Krzyzewski saw the subtle nuances that could be adjusted “to see if our guys can get out of the mindset of playing ACC basketball and play national basketball.”

The Blue Devils usually do, thanks in part to the machinations of their coach.

Roof Completes Impressive Staff

Football coach Ted Roof completed his staff by hiring North Carolina high school legend and Duke alumnus Tommy Knotts to handle his quarterbacks.

Knotts was an interesting choice, with the potential to pay huge dividends. That he has a great football mind is indisputable, and he certainly was able to get his message across to high school players. Knotts led Charlotte Independence to a state-record 62 consecutive victories, a run that included four straight state 4A titles from 2000-03.

Knotts never has been a favorite among many of his peers, in large part because of his tendency to speak bluntly. That's not always a welcome trait in the hypersensitive world of high school athletics, especially in the South. He also was resented for running up the score at times, and also probably because of petty jealousy.

None of that is likely to present a problem for Knotts at the college level, and the Blue Devils' quarterbacks should thrive under his tutelage. Remember, Knotts produced the most prolific high school quarterback in history, Florida's Chris Leak. And he was able to implement an offense at Independence that was more complicated than many college schemes. That audible sigh of relief heard in February probably came from the rest of North Carolina's high school football coaches.

Everyone knows Roof has a difficult job at Duke, but it's hard to argue with his start — on the recruiting trail (already more interest/excitement than at any time under Carl Franks) and in the always-challenging staff-building process. Roof has plenty of energy and lots of connections, and he's obviously using both well. Knotts turned down several job offers at the college level in the past, including at least one in the ACC, before accepting what he called his “dream job” from Roof.

After retaining Scott Brown (now co-defensive coordinator/defensive line), Fred Chatham (running backs/special teams), Brad Sherrod (linebackers) and Don Yanowsky (offensive line) from the previous staff, Roof lured Jerry Azzinaro (co-defensive coordinator), Marty Galbraith (offensive coordinator/tight ends), David Kelly (associate head coach/receivers) and Glenn Spencer (assistant head coach/defensive backs) to Durham.

While ACC football coaches with bigger budgets and more successful teams have made some curious hires in recent years, Roof surprised some of his competitors in a more desirable fashion. Azzinaro (Syracuse), Kelly (Stanford) and Spencer (Georgia Tech) left good jobs with established programs to join the Duke staff. Each received a bump in title from his previous position, and several sources in the coaching community said the Blue Devils are paying their assistants much closer to market value these days. Unlike public universities, Duke is not obligated to report salary information.

Kelly and Spencer are old buddies of Roof from their days together as assistants under George O'Leary at Georgia Tech. (Spencer and Roof also played together for the Yellow Jackets in the mid-1980s.) Azzinaro worked with Roof in 1994 at Massachusetts. Galbraith recently was fired from his job with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, but he impressed Roof with his work as the offensive coordinator at N.C. State in 2001-02.