clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Next Up - Virginia Tech

N&O | N-R
| W-S |

| Richmond
| Collegiate
| H-S | The

Duke heads up to Blacksburg Thursday to take on the struggling Hokies of
Virginia Tech. After losing at Duke on Sean Dockery's miracle buzzer beater,
Virginia Tech won four straight, including wins over Stanford and St. John's,
and while neither team is near their apex, those wins count for something.
After that, though, they lost to ODU, coached by a Mike Montgomery protege, and
have lost four straight ACC games, but it's not as if they were blown out by
anyone: Maryland won 81-72, but the other games were pretty close. So what
expect when Duke comes into town? A grudge match, naturally.

Virginia Tech could be forgiven if they fingered Sean Dockery for their
conference slide, and arguably, Tech's season would be radically different had
he done as almost anyone would have done and missed. Jamon Gordon has had certainly wondered.

"Man, I've seen that shot about 59 times," Gordon told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "Every time somebody talks about Duke on TV, they've got that shot to bring out. We could have defended it a little better, but it was a lucky shot.

"It's tough. You're playing the No.1 team in the nation, at their home, one of the toughest places to play. We felt like we beat them, then they make a lucky shot. It kind of took a little bit of spirit out of us. Who knows? If we had won that game, our season could have been totally different."

They were expected to
be about where Virginia is now (and vice-versa), but injuries, illness, personal
stress and heartbreak, and bad luck have taken their toll on the team. When they were in Durham, we had no idea how difficult things were for their kids, and your heart naturally goes out to them.

In recent games, the Hokies have tried to stick to a tight rotation of six basic players, and have only gone further into their bench when absolutely

Against Duke, though, that probably won't matter. After getting shellacked in
Durham last year, and with a sense that they were homered, Tech played a
sensational game in Blacksburg last year, and upset Duke. They almost
pulled it off again this year in Durham, of course.

But if Duke went to Blacksburg not fully aware of the intensity of Tech fans,
and if they somehow expected an easy game, in Durham, if they were somehow
didn't take Tech seriously in the last two games, the odds of that happening
this time, after the last two games with Tech and last Saturday's loss to Georgetown, are pretty slim.

After the Georgetown loss, Coach K spoke of his team almost derisively,
saying, among other things, that "[w]e were not worthy of our jerseys, of
the Duke jersey. We could not match [Georgetown's] intensity for a whole half
and that doesn't happen very often. Then all of a sudden we do 'J.J.

A lot of the writers harrumphed after the game and had various assessments of
Duke's chances, almost all marking them down. They all miss the point about
Duke, and about Mike Krzyzewski.

Duke certainly does not embrace losing, but they do not shrink from
failure. Indeed, Krzyzewski has often said that his best teaching
opportunities come after failures. So what's happened since Georgetown,
despite some (likely) unusually intense practices?

Well. The video has been broken down, for team and individual
consumption. Errors have been thoroughly analyzed. Demeanor has been
discussed. Trust has been discussed. Effort has certainly been a
focus.. Help defense has been, shall we say, revisited. And a
candid assessment of Duke's weaknesses, certainly including dribble penetration,
has been prepared, and strategies for compensation are in place. Blunt
honesty on all fronts, for everyone.

Does this mean Duke is going to win? No. Tech has quickly grown
to dislike Duke, and their fans certainly are up to ACC standards, and past a
number of places, including Chapel Hill, FSU, Miami, Wake Forest, and
Virginia. It's going to be a very, very tough environment.

But while we won't predict a victory in this game, we feel safe in making two

1) Duke will play hard, even if it's the walk-ons who have to do it (Wake
Forest did not understand this last season, but it's always been the case under
Krzyzewski that if you don't put out a real effort, if you don't try to excel,
if you coast, you're going to be on the bench).

2) If Duke does lose, and that's a distinct possibility, while the rest of
the basketball world will focus on a storyline like "Devils in a
slump!" or some such nonsense, Duke will go back to practice and back to
work. Krzyzewski will get inside his player's heads, which he does as well
as anyone anywhere, and find ways to challenge them and to engage them.

One of our favorite stories about a Duke practice came to us a few years
ago. Coach K stopped practice after Nick Horvath took a shot to the face
and said (we paraphrase quite liberally), "Nick's been hurt a lot this
season. And all his injuries have been above his neck, because his posture
is bad. And his posture is bad because he's not confident and he doesn't
stand or play with confidence."

It sounds trivial, but it was a sharp insight on how the internal and
external relate to each other, and it summed up Nick Horvath perfectly.
And he benefited from that.

And the second part of it is that the team in general, and the upperclassmen
in particular, are expected to do certain things. After the loss Saturday,
the coaches were quick to buck up Greg Paulus. After they did that, an
assistant caught Redick and reminded him to do it as well.

This is not a new idea in Durham. At one point during 1991, if memory
serves, Bobby Hurley got knocked around by someone, and his teammates didn't
move fast enough to help him. After the game, Coach K explained that they
trusted Hurley to get them the ball, and that he needed to trust that they'd
look out for him.

Hurley was knocked down again in the next game - this used to happen to
him a lot - and his teammates, led by Grant Hill, were there in a heartbeat.

Situation analyzed, lesson learned.

Our basketball knowledge is probably better than average, but if you say that
about surgery or mathematics or even a more easily acquired skill like history,
you know that having an above average grasp of a subject only gives you enough
knowledge to make a fool out of yourself, something we know a little about,

We don't pretend to know enough to understand every point where Duke blew it
Saturday, but we do know from repeated experience that you are not likely to see
a similar performance twice.

You can put out James Worthy and Michael Jordan or Juan Dixon and Steve
Blake, or Coleman Collins and the Tech backcourt, and the lesson is still the
same: Duke doesn't fear losing, and no one extracts more use out of a loss
than Mike Krzyzewski. It doesn't mean a win, but it does mean lessons are
learned, passed on, and absorbed. What Duke has done since 1980 didn't
happen in a vacuum, didn't happen because of the officials, and didn't happen
because there has been no adversity. Indeed, there's been immense adversity.

But they've never backed away from it. Win or lose, they won't start
backing away now, either. A lot of people like (or hate) Duke just because
they win, but we get the feeling that a lot of them have never quite figured out
that Duke's dominance is not a fluke.