It was gratifying to see how many commentators used the occasion of Mike Krzyzewski's 1,000th career victory Sunday to reflect on his remarkable career. It was especially pleasing to see how many respected basketball observers used the milestone to anoint Coach K as the greatest college coach of all time - something Duke fans have argued for a while.
I'm not ready to jump in that debate yet - allow Krzyzewski's career to play out before we match him up with John Wooden (the only possible contender as the GOAT).
But allow me to address one point made by defenders of such coaches as Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp.
Coach K has won 76.5 percent of his career games (1,000-308). By contrast, Rupp won 82.2 percent in his career (876-190). Dean Smith won 77.6 (879-254). And Roy Williams has won 79.3 percent in his career (741-194) so far.
The supporters of those coaches argue that their guys were better and that K has merely benefited from the increase in games played per season. There is actually some truth in that.
Rupp, who coached from 1931-72, averaged 26.0 games a season in his 41 years. Smith, who went from 1962 to 1997, averaged 31.5 games a year in 36 seasons. In his first 39 seasons (not counting this year), Coach K has averaged 33.0 games a season.
The difference in games is purely a function of era. But people who bring that up, ignore other aspects of the change in eras - specifically the increase in competitive programs.
When Rupp was in his hey-day at Kentucky, he found few competitors in the SEC. Mississippi State had a nice run under coach Babe McCarthy and late in Rupp's reign, Ray Mears had some tough teams at Tennessee. There were a handful of other exceptions. But for most of his four decades in Lexington, Rupp rarely faced more than one or two serious competitors a season in a league that was still devoted to football (and where coaching basketball was often a secondary duty for an assistant football coach).
Dean Smith also caught a break in his early years at UNC. For most of the first two decades of the ACC, the competition was limited to the four North Carolina schools. Maryland was tough in the 1950s, but by the time Smith replaced Frank McGuire, that program was in decline and wouldn't revive until Lefty Driesell had time to fashion a winner in the early 1970s.
In that era, games with Clemson, Virginia and South Carolina were gimmies. That didn't change until Frank McGuire surfaced in Columbia and made South Carolina competitive in the late 1960s. Virginia didn't have even a break-even ACC season until 1972 … and that 8-6 season under Bill Gibson was the school's only ACC winner until the arrival of Terry Holland later in the decade. Clemson was the worst of the three - everybody makes a big deal of the fact that the Tigers have never won in Chapel Hill … but there are also a mere 4-57 in Cameron and were 7-32 in Reynolds. That's a long legacy of futility.
I'm not talking about the inevitable ups and downs that most programs experience. I'm talking about programs that would go decades without the commitment to compete in the ACC.
Throw in the fact that Wake Forest also collapsed in the mid-1960s for a decade and it's clear that Smith got his career started in a much, much softer environment than Krzyzewski, who entered just as the ACC was entering its greatest era. I've argued elsewhere that between 1980 and 2005, the ACC was not only the best basketball conference in America - it was the greatest conference there ever was.
Actually, that's beside the point - the reason Smith and Roy Williams have better career winning percentages than K is simple - K started his career with five seasons at West Point.
Krzyzewski was 73-59 in those five seasons at the U.S. Military Academy - a 55.3 percent winning percentage. His apprenticeship at a school that has never earned an NCAA bid - not under Bob Knight, not under Tates Locke and not under Krzyzewski -- has dragged down his career winning percentage.
Neither Smith, whose entire head coaching career was at UNC, nor Roy Williams, who has been at Kansas and UNC, ever had to cope with a similar situation. And for the record, Rupp coached his entire career at Kentucky.
But here's an interesting fact that you never hear Tar Heel partisans mention - that K's winning percentage at Duke us actually better than either Smith or Roy Williams' records at UNC. In fact, measured by time at an ACC school, K's got the best winning percentage - not only the most wins - of any coach in ACC history.
Here's the list of coaches who have coached at least five years in the ACC and their winning percentage over that period:
1. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke (927-249) 78.8
2. Roy Williams, UNC (323-93) 77.644
3. Dean Smith, UNC (879-254) 77.581
4. Vic Bubas, Duke (213-67) 76.1
5. Everett Case, N.C. State (377-134) 73.8
6. Frank McGuire, UNC & South Carolina (281-118) 70.4*
7. Lefty Driesell, Maryland (348-159) 68.6
8. Harold Bradley, Duke (167-78) 68.1
9. Norm Sloan, N.C. State (266-127) 67.7
10. Tony Bennett, Virginia (124-60) 67.4
11. Terry Holland, Virginia (326-173) 65.3
12. Skip Prosser, Wake Forest (126-68) 64.9
13. Jim Valvano, N.C. State (209-114) 64.7
14. Dave Odom, Wake Forest (240-132) 64.5
15. Bill Foster, Duke (113-64) 63.8
16. Oliver Purnell, Clemson (138-88) 61.1
17. Al Skinner, Boston College (100-65) 60.6
(Note: Bobby Cremins, Georgia Tech, and Carl Tacy, Wake Forest, are both at 59.9)
*McGuire was 164-58 at UNC (73.9) and 117-60 at South Carolina in the ACC (66.1)
Drop the five-year restriction and make it one year and you add:
1. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse (42-13) 76.4
2. Bill Guthridge, UNC (80-28) 74.1
3. Jamie Dixon, Pitt (39-17) 69.6
4. Dino Gaudio, Wake Forest (61-31) 66.3
5. Jim Larranaga, Miami (80-41) 66.1
6. Mark Gottfried, N.C, State (83-46) 64.3
7. Mike Brey, Notre Dame (34-19) 64.2
8. Rick Barnes, Clemson (74-48) 60.7
I guess you could throw in Louisville's Rick Pitino, who is 16-3 in his first ACC season. That's a better percentage than K's number, but it's a ridiculously small sample size.
The point is that not only does K have the most wins as an ACC coach (927), he also has the best winning percentage of any ACC coach.
That's a pretty impressive accomplishment.
ADDING UP THE WINS
Several commentators pointed out how apt it was that Coach K should get his 1,000th win in Madison Square Garden, which has almost been a home away from home for the Duke coach.
That got me thinking - where did Coach K compile most of his wins? I sat down with the record book last night and did some figuring. I got these numbers:
1. Cameron Indoor Stadium: 468 wins. That's not surprising that the most wins - by far - in Coach K's career would come on his home court at Duke.
2. Greensboro Coliseum: 52 wins. That total reflects the number of ACC Tournaments played there (Duke won titles in Greensboro in 1986, 1988, 2003, 2006, 2010 and 2011 and was runnerup in 1984, 1991, 1998, 2004, and 2014), plus the number of NCAA first and second round games played there. It also includes some big non-conference games (one win in the ACC/Big East Challenge; two wins in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge) and several non-conference games against the likes of North Carolina A&T and UNC Greensboro. In K's first season, Duke also participated in the final Big Four Tournament in Greensboro - but the Devils lost both games, so K never got a Big 4 win there. But during the 1980s, while Lawrence Joel was being completed, the Deacs played their home games in Greensboro and Duke added two Greensboro wins over Wake Forest.
3. USMA Field House: 42 wins. K's homecourt at Army was replaced in 1985 by Christl Arena. K did get one win in Christl Arena - his 1997-98 Duke team opened the season with a win there, giving him 43 wins in West Point.
4. Madison Square Garden: 26 wins. Obviously some big ones - including victory No. 903 to pass Bob Knight as the winningest Division 1 men's coach of all time and Sunday's 1,000th career win. What interesting is that Coach K recorded just five wins in Madison Square Garden in the 20th Century. But he's won 21 times in the 21st Century, usually in preseason NIT games or holiday Christmas matchups against big-time opponents. Duke also has seven wins over St. John's in the Garden - one in the 1985-6 preseason NIT and six in games that are classified as home games for the Johnnies. As near as I can tell, K's Army teams played just once in the Garden - losing to LSU.
5. Charlotte Coliseum: 24 wins. Just to be clear, this is the Charlotte arena that was in use from 1988-2006 on Tyvola Road. This was another favored site of the ACC Tournament (K won titles here in 1992, 1999, 2000 and 2002). Duke also played a number of NCAA games in the Coliseum, including the NCAA semifinal win over Florida in the 1994 Final Four. In addition, Duke has faced Davidson a number of times in the Coliseum. K also has three wins in the old Charlotte Coliseum on Independence Boulevard, plus four wins in the new Time-Warner Arena downtown (actually, it's uptown in the parlance of Charlotteans).
6. Meadowlands: 21 wins. K got his first win in this Jersey arena (it's had many corporate names over the years) in 1982 - the first season it was opened. His second, and probably worst, Duke team beat Holy Cross there. Most recently, Duke beat UConn there last month. In between, the Meadowlands has provided Duke a golden path to the Final Four on a number of occasions - 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1999. Duke has also played and won a number of holiday non-conference games - usually alternating such games between the Meadowlands and Madison Square Garden.
7. Littlejohn Coliseum: 20. One reason the Clemson home court ranks so high is that most of K's ACC opponents have changed home courts in his tenure. Clemson and Georgia Tech are the only 1981 ACC members still playing on the same home floor … along with Duke.
8. Cole Field House: 16. Although Maryland had a stretch of success in Cameron and became a tough opponent late in Coach K's tenure, it's amazing how much he dominated the Terps for most of his time at Duke. Maybe that's why they hate Duke so much. Coach K added six more wins in the Comcast Center after it opened for the 2002-03 season and before Maryland (to use Brad Daugherty's words) "was run out of the league."
9. (Tie) Lawrence Joel Coliseum: 15 wins. Thirteen of those wins have come against Wake Forest and two more came during the 2000 NCAA Tournament. One of those was a win over Kansas and Roy Williams.
-- Alexander Memorial Coliseum: 15 wins. Duke also added a win over the Jackets in Phillips Arena in 2012, when Alexander was being remodeled.
-- Lahania Civic Center: 15 wins. Duke is an amazing 15-0 in the Maui Invitational, winning titles in 1992-93; 1997-98; 2001-02; 2007-08; and 2011-12. Krzyzewski also has seven wins (and one title) in the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu and one win in Laie, Hawaii. That's a total of 23 wins (and three losses) in the Islands.
-- Smith Center: 15 wins. That's 13 wins versus UNC and two wins in the 1988 NCAA Tournament. Krzyzewski had one win in his Duke's final visit to Carmichael, so 16 wins in Chapel Hill overall.
13. (tie) University Hall: 14 wins. Krzyzewski also has three wins in the John Paul Jones Arena for 17 wins in Charlottesville.
-- Leon County Civic Center: 14 wins. Not bad considering FSU's first ACC season was 1991-92.
Noticeably absent from that list are the two arenas in Raleigh. Krzyzewski earned 10 wins in Reynolds Coliseum and has nine more in the new arena (whatever it's named now) - seven of those over NC State and two wins in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.
I was counting K's wins in various cities and I get:
-- 52 in Greensboro
-- 43 in West Point, N.Y.
-- 31 in Atlanta (15 in Alexander, eight in the Georgia Dome, five in the Omni and three in Phillips)
-- 31 in Charlotte (3 in the old Coliseum, 24 in the second coliseum, four in Time-Warner)
-- 28 in New York City (26 is MSG; two in Barclays)
-- 22 in College Park, Md.
-- 21 in East Rutherford, N.J.
-- 20 in Clemson, S.C.
-- 19 in Raleigh (10 in Reynolds, nine in the PNC Arena)
MORE BREAKDOWNS OF 1,000
-- What team has K beaten most often in his career? Would you believe Maryland? K has 55 wins versus the Terps - a total that isn't going to change much, since the only foreseeable matchups in the future are potentially in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge or in the NCAA Tournament.
Here's the list of K's favorite victims:
1. Maryland 55
2. Georgia Tech 53
3. (tie) Virginia 52
5. N.C. State 51
6. Wake Forest 46
7. UNC 40
8. Florida State 32 (31 at Duke, 1 at Army)
9. Davidson 26 (25 at Duke, 1 at Army)
10. (tie) Boston College 17
Miami, Fla. 17
12. (tie) St. John's 16
14. Temple 13
15. (tie) Notre Dame 12
East Carolina 12-0
-- K has a winning record against each of the other Blueblood programs:
-- Almost 20 percent of K's 1,000 wins have come against ranked opponents - 197 wins in all. That includes 39 wins against top 5 opponents and six victories over No. 1 ranked teams.
Thirty four of K's 35 Duke teams (counting this one) have beaten at least one ranked foe - the only exception was in 1983, when Duke was 0-6 against ranked opponents - all of them ranked in the top 10.
-- Coach K has 82 NCAA Tournament wins; 55 ACC Tournament wins and two NIT wins. So that means that 139 of his 1,000 wins - almost 14 percent -- have come in postseason play.
-- K has 41 wins against teams that reached the Final Four, including five wins over the eventual national champs: 1988 Kansas (Duke beat the Jayhawks in Lawrence before losing to them in the NCAA semifinals in Kansas City); 1993 UNC (in Cameron); 2002 Maryland (in Cameron); 2005 UNC (in Cameron); and 2013 Louisville (Duke beat the Cards in the Bahamas before losing to them in the regional finals in Indianapolis).
Eight times K-coached teams have beaten future Final Four teams twice … and one of his teams beat a Final Four ream THREE times (Maryland in 2001).
-- The next milestone? K currently has 421 wins versus ACC opponents (either regular season or ACC Tournament), Dean Smith holds the record with 422.
So with his next ACC win - maybe tonight at Notre Dame - K will tie Smith for that record.