Has Mike Krzyzewski’s USA Basketball tenure impacted Duke?
On Thursday, USA Basketball and Mike Krzyzewski made official what had been reported for several days: Krzyzewski will be returning as head coach of USA Basketball through the 2016 Olympics. He will also lead the national team in the 2014 World Championships.
This is excellent news if you care about USA Basketball. Krzyzewski is 62-1 as head man for the U.S., with the only defeat coming in his first event, the 2006 World Championships, when the United States lost to Greece in the semifinals on the way to a bronze medal. Under Krzyzewski, the U.S. has won the last two Olympic gold medals. Judging from public comments from LeBron James and others, this is welcome news, and Krzyzewski fully commands the respect of the game’s elite.
What’s more interesting, at least to me, is whether this change of tune on Krzyzewski’s part will have any effect — positive or negative — on Duke basketball.
When Krzyzewski first landed the national team gig in 2005, there were two schools of contrasting thought. Some argued that this position, and his access to and relationships with the pro game’s best players, would be an enormous recruiting advantage for the Blue Devils. That seeing Krzyzewski on the sidelines (as well as in American Express ads) was tantamount to free advertising for his college program. More recently, John Calipari (and others) have used similarly impressive connections as a positive recruiting tool, so the argument, at least as a base assumption, had some merit. The counterargument was that the demands of overseeing USA Basketball would spread Krzyzewski thinner and Duke basketball would suffer some as a result.
So what’s actually happened since he first started juggling the two jobs? Well, Duke has been a No. 1 (three times) or No. 2 seed (four times) in the NCAA tournament in every season since then with the exception of 2007, when the Blue Devils were a 6-seed and lost to VCU in the “Is this the dagger?” Eric Maynor game in the Round of 64.
In the previous eight seasons, the Blue Devils were a No. 1 seed an astonishing seven times, with a No. 3 seed in 2003 as the only outlier. Still “regressing” half the time to a No. 2 seed instead of a No. 1 is not exactly compelling evidence of massive program slippage. Even with the total number of games played rising against past standards, the Blue Devils have won at least 27 games in every season but that 2007 campaign since Krzyzewski took over as USA coach. We haven’t seen a Duke team as dominant as the 1999 or 2001 versions (or even 2004), but this still has been an extraordinarily successful and consistent program in terms of regular-season accomplishment.
What about recruiting, what of the argued advantages to Krzyzewski’s higher-profile coaching platform? Per ESPN.com’s class rankings (available since 2007), Duke has finished sixth, 23rd, ninth, sixth, second, 12th and 15th. Take recruiting rankings with a generous dose of salt, but the recruiting landscape definitely has changed during this time period with the implementation of the one-and-done rule. Duke hasn’t tapped into that rent-a-star market as heavily as other programs (although the Blue Devils did have Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers leave in consecutive years after one season in Durham).
Whether that’s more philosophical or fit or Duke isn’t quite as hot a landing spot for this type of player, it’s hard to argue that Krzyzewski’s position with USA Basketball has helped Blue Devil recruiting. They’re certainly still getting their fair share of solid players each year, though, and Duke (like Kansas) does a good job of developing players who contribute more later in their careers.
It’s been well documented that Duke has underachieved against NCAA tournament seed expectation over this period, even with the 2010 national championship in the equation. No. 1 seeds win, on average, around 3.3 games per tournament, and No. 2 seeds win about a game fewer than that, per data from Pete Tiernan’s BracketScience and Performance Against Seed Expectations charts. In the seven tries Krzyzewski has had since his USA hire as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, Duke has won a total of 16 games, or about four fewer than you would expect over that timespan given Duke’s seeding. If you take out the national title run (obviously a very major if), the underperformance is pretty stark. Duke won 10 games in six tries when it was expected to win closer to 17.
That said, it’s hard to conceive that Krzyzewski’s association with USA Basketball has anything to do with Duke’s record in one-off knockout games in March. Maybe this trend is correlated a bit to a talent dropoff vs. Duke teams from before the one-and-done era, but again, Duke still recruits pretty well and wins a ton of regular-season games. For this upcoming season, Duke has one of the nation’s truly elite prospects in Jabari Parker, so it’s not like star power isn’t still finding its way to the Blue Devils roster. Krzyzewski’s ongoing exposure to the best NBA players also may be a continuing boon in his ability to develop his college players as future pros.
It would be interesting to know more about the micro details — whether the demanding schedule causes him more fatigue, whether the time away during summers is truly impactful over the long-term, etc. — but the macro trends remain pretty strong. As Krzyzewski re-ups and looks to add a couple more notches to very arguably the most accomplished basketball coaching career ever, his program remains in very good shape, even as increased recent doses of March schadenfreude have satisfied the anti-Duke portion of College Hoops Nation. And, hey, Krzyzewski’s compensation isn’t so shabby, either. This sounds like a win for pretty much everyone concerned.