Krzyzewski changes tone on young Duke team

jdaly@newsobserver.comFebruary 19, 2012 

— Over the past two or three weeks, Mike Krzyzewski has softened his public critiques of his team.

Before Miami defeated Duke on Feb. 5, the Blue Devils' coach wouldn't shy away from pointing out his team's warts, especially if he wasn't thrilled with the effort on a particular day.

Consider his reaction after an uninspiring performance against St. John's on Jan. 28: "We did enough to win, which almost makes me sick to say that. I hate saying that we did enough to win. That's not who I am, and it's not who the program is. We don't do enough to win - we play really good basketball, and then hopefully we win. To me, it was like a loss. I didn't like today."

Or after that loss to the Hurricanes, when Krzyzewski talked about how he's repeatedly stressed the importance of guarding against complacency to this year's team: "They should listen, and they did not. That's not good. It's not good."

Recently, however, Krzyzewski has taken a different tack.

He has stressed the Blue Devils' accomplishments whenever he can. Fifth-ranked Duke (22-4, 9-2) enters today's game at Boston College (8-18, 3-9) battling with North Carolina and Florida State for the ACC's regular championship.

In the ACC's weekly teleconference last Monday, Krzyzewski was most effusive, saying, "Really, overall, I think these kids have done an unbelievable job."

Then after Duke's comeback over N.C. State on Thursday, Krzyzewski said he wasn't concerned about the way the Blue Devils played in the first half against the Wolfpack.

"You know what is a concern for me today? A celebration of a great win," he said. "Whatever string of things happened, we are 22-4. We've been in the top five of the RPI all year. We're not a perfect team, but we're a good team."

It's a point that bears repeating.

For all the focus on Duke's shortcomings on defense and/or its erratic efforts, the Blue Devils still have a clear path to the ACC regular season championship. If Duke can win its remaining three road games (in addition to Boston College, it travels to Florida State and Wake Forest), it'll also become the first Blue Devils team to go undefeated on the road in conference play since the 1999-2000 edition.

And with the No. 2 overall ranking in the RPI against what's ranked as the nation's toughest schedule, the Blue Devils are likely to be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

It appears Krzyzewski's shift is designed to reinforce to his young team that Duke should take pride in what it has achieved. At various points, the Blue Devils have displayed an unusual fragility, and Krzyzewski has been open about trying different approaches. Perhaps this bunch needs more encouragement and nurturing than some.

After today's game at Boston College, the Blue Devils will play in two games that will likely determine who earns the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament - Thursday at Florida State and March 3 at home against UNC.

In some ways, this Duke team looks like a lot of other Duke teams, in other words.

"We're a team that has fought, and instead of talking about inconsistencies and starts and struggles and all of that, we're 22-4," Krzyzewski said.

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