By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) I’m not quite sure how this happened, but the NCAA Tournament resumed Sunday. The games are all still going on, somehow, with the college basketball world remaining on its axis.
Here I thought that the absence of both Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim would somehow trigger an automatic shutdown, the departure of the game’s two most overindulged emperors acting as a kill-switch, per some hidden, arcane rules that state they could just take their balls and go home. But instead it is they licking their wounds and replaying scenes from their respective final games of the season on an endless loop in their heads, each vanquished by an inferior before the event’s second weekend.
I love this. Play on, everybody else, and let us envision these two coaches alone in their grand offices surrounded by plaques and trophies, trying to find every way to convince themselves that their embarrassment was in no way their own fault.
Krzyzewski, always hailed as a beacon of class by the horde of compromised, intoxicated media troubadours, displayed such a trait by blaming his own team’s youth for the opening-game loss to Mercer.
“Well, they’re men, they’re strong,” he said. “The tournament sometimes places you in a position where you have a younger team than the team you’re playing against.”
And that’s where the whole coaching job comes in, and it makes this attempt to deflect responsibility laughable, because Krzyzewski could construct his program and his roster however he wants. He could easily choose to avoid the ultra-talented one-year stars in favor of those eventual “men” who will play three or four seasons in Durham, or at least make sure that those just stopping by on the way to the NBA would have significant upperclass support on the floor at key spots during important times. It’s not about the rules determining how long college players must stay, but about the entire job of preparing a team for such games.
“When your best guy is a freshman, once in a while he’ll play like a freshman,” Krzyzewski told CBS.
Poor Coach K, forced by some unseen hand to recruit such flawed players, and as if being a freshman is Jabari Parker’s fault. No mention of how one of the nation’s best was deployed, languishing in the corner while teammates shot countless contested 3-pointers with no concern for the shot clock. Parker was Duke’s best screener but was rarely used in the kind of high pick-and-roll sets that could have generated switches for favorable matches and angles for aggressive assaults on the basket. He just played badly, Krzyzewski says. OK, then.
Boeheim, meanwhile, watched his Syracuse team miss every single 3-pointer attempted, finishing 0-for-10 in their 55-53 loss to Dayton. Familiar criticism of his uncreative offensive schemes returned, as did that of his rigid adherence to zone defense that may contribute to single-outcome vulnerability in two ways. First, a lesser opponent can more comfortably control a game’s tempo, hanging around by making a few big shots and settling into a half-court game without having to worry about better athletes pressuring them up the floor. Second, a team that practices against a zone all season can be exploited by the kind of relentless, disciplined man-to-man defense as that played so tightly by Dayton.
Remember the two times Duke and Syracuse squared off in ACC play this year, with all the superlatives flung around about how important these games were, because of the obvious significance of these teams and more specifically the coaches? In the first matchup, Syracuse escaped with a 91-89 overtime win, and it immediately earned the oxymoronic honor of “instant classic.” In the second, Duke prevailed 66-60 after a questionable call resulted in Boeheim’s infamously volcanic tirade. It all meant so much, we were led to believe, because of the legends involved.
They are no longer involved in the 2014 college basketball season, one that still has any number of truly meaningful games to be enjoyed.
Presumably, being anointed a coaching legend means one can afford a nice television.