What Duke's Win Over Butler Means for College Basketball

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What Duke's Win Over Butler Means for College Basketball
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The Aftershock of Duke’s 2010 National Championship

Like many (especially Georgetown Hoya fans), you may have spent the last two weeks in a quiet stupor trying to figure out what went wrong.  Ultimately, you spent Monday night getting wasted and Tuesday morning puking your disgust and confusion into the closest trash bin while attempting to figure out just what happened.

I mean, Georgetown pummeled Duke and manhandled Butler, only to fall to Ohio in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Kansas most certainly would have defeated the Blue Devils, if they could have figured out how to beat Northern Iowa during the opening weekend.  Let’s face it. No one really thinks Coach K would have guided his Blue Devils past Syracuse's 2-3 zone. In fact, many still feel that a fully healthy West Virginia or Michigan State team could have defeated this year’s champions.

Despite all the possibilities and “what if's” Duke was able to capitalize on Mike Krzyzewski’s new formula for success—an equation that may well result in the new birth of reign for the Duke Blue Devils! 

Now you’re wondering, just how did this new formula come to be? For eight years, the USA Basketball powerhouse dominated the world basketball scene, but like a glitch in the Matrix, the world quickly caught on and adjusted.

Realizing that the old Soviet Union’s plan of creating international athletic programs worked, many countries made basketball their top athletic priority, and within 12 years international basketball went from a fan club for Team USA to serious competition, creating an all-out identity crisis in the American basketball institution.

Gone were the days when Team USA could expect to win the gold medal. Instead, a new era was ushered in—one where appreciation for the moment was established.  International coaches realized that American expectation was their biggest weakness. While Team USA expected to win, the rest of the world put in the time and preparation to ensure that victory would not be the product of a fluke but instead a building block to that one shining moment on top of the medal stand.

Beginning with the 2002 humiliation at the World Championships in Indianapolis, and culminating with the Athens 2004 debacle, it became clear that United States Basketball was no longer the supreme force.

In response, Jerry Colangelo decided to model what other countries were doing. Instead of selecting a team, they developed a program...a plan for success that was long-term instead of short-term and reactionary. 

In 2005, Mike Krzyzewski was named the head basketball coach for a new project known as Team USA Basketball. Who better to run this new program than a man who had created an institution at the college level?  More than that, Coach Krzyzewski was the leader of a nation: the Blue Devil Nation. He was the mayor of Krzyzewskiville and the king of a dynasty that had grown to become the most hated entity east of South Bend and south of the Rotten Apple.

What most don’t realize is that Coach K accepted the task knowing the fate of his legacy hung in the balance. Not only was he tasked with returning American basketball to its place atop the world stage, he was also charged with molding the future of American basketball in the form of Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade.

In 2006, Team USA was back on top and two games away from returning to glory before the unthinkable happened. A loss to Greece in the semifinals resulted in a bronze medal and awakened American cynicism and doubt.  In response to the loss, Coach Krzyzewski stated the following: “We knew when we started that it’s going to be a journey, not a short trip. We have to learn the international game better.

Perhaps Coach K finally realized that basketball was about more than winning. It was about the journey to learn the game better.

In 2008, while having the Big Three of Anthony, James, and Wade, Coach K added the leadership of Jason Kidd, the competitiveness of Kobe Bryant, and the intangibles of Dwight Howard.  Coach K also learned two valuable lessons: that nothing happens outside of relationship and the importance of individual players understanding and buying into their roles. Both would be necessary for Team USA to be successful.  Most importantly, he learned the value of making each moment count because you never know which game may be your last.

So while you may feel that the Duke Blue Devils' 2010 national title run was a fluke, you must understand that this was actually the product of a paradigm Coach K began developing five years ago. Duke’s 61-59 win over Butler on Monday was the culmination of a season in college basketball that has redefined our perceptions of how to win.

This decade will not be about McDonald's All-Americans or one-and-done mega stars. It will not be about the dribble-drive or Princeton offenses or the Cinderellas of the world. This decade in college basketball will be about identity formation—preparation and understanding/taking advantage of each moment (literally from possession to possession, half to half, game to game).

Love or hate Duke all you want, but know this: They already have a jump on the competition because Coach K took advantage of his opportunity.  

This season, Duke started the year ranked No. 9 in the AP Preseason Poll and No. 8 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll. Not bad for a team returning four starters from a squad that was completely destroyed by Villanova in the 2009 Sweet 16.

While the NBA has made the “Big Three” a household name, college basketball had not caught on. However, Coach K did, and he slowly found a way to mold his team around the versatility of junior forward Kyle Singler, the shooting of senior guard Jon Scheyer, and the emerging leadership of junior guard Nolan Smith.  While the remainder of the roster included high-ranking recruits and McDonald's All-Americans, Coach K found a way to get his young supporting cast to buy into a fundamental concept of team basketball: Know your role and do it well.  No one bought into this idea more than senior center Brian Zoubek. He and senior forward Lance Thomas slowly began to understand that their roles were vital if Duke was to live up to its lofty tradition and return to its former immortality.  

Basketball is a simple game of spacing, movement, and angles. Dig a little deeper, and you realize that decision-making and communication are also important, followed by defense, rebounding, and efficiency. Ultimately, it comes down to who has more points on the scoreboard and beating the teams on your schedule. That was Duke’s formula: to do its job, and let the rest work itself out.

All season long, the Blue Devils followed this plan. They spaced their schedule out to properly challenge themselves, allowing time for a makeover after Georgetown undressed them in January, so they knew what they needed to make the final push in March. They moved players in and out of the rotation until they found that group that worked best together.  Finally, Coach K found a new angle, one that utilized Scheyer’s decision-making (he was one of the nation's leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio) and his ability to effectively communicate his plan of action and purpose for each of his players.

On Monday night in Indiana, it came down to defense and rebounding, and Duke was simply the best.  

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