Posted February 01, 2014

Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boehim finally meet again and Duke, not Syracuse, needs to make a statement

ACC, Duke Blue Devils, Syracuse Orange
Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski

Jim Boeheim (left) and Mike Krzyzewski are longtime friends who have worked together on Team USA. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim are the two winningest coaches in the history of college basketball. They have combined for 1,914 wins, five national championships and 15 Final Fours. They have joined forces to help Team USA win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 2008 and ’12. They consider each other best friends.

On Saturday, they will be on opposite benches for just the third time, when the No. 2-ranked Orange host the 17th-ranked Blue Devils in the first meeting between the two powerhouse programs in 16 years.

That matchup is empirically cool, but the weight of the game goes beyond just the two legends on the sidelines. It is about what Duke has long carried and which Syracuse, the conference intruder, is poised to steal: the banner of the ACC itself.

The stakes were not unexpected — the Blue Devils were picked first in the preseason ACC media poll and the Orange second — but what might be is that it is Krzyzewski’s team, not Boehiem’s, that is in need of a statement victory. Syracuse is undefeated (20-0, 7-0) and sits atop the league standings. Duke (17-4, 6-2), meanwhile, is tied for third and has lost its first two games this year against elite opponents, falling to Kansas and Arizona (albeit both in November) on neutral courts while also losing to unranked ACC foes Notre Dame and Clemson in conference road games this month.

Syracuse hasn’t been tested as severely — the Orange’s highest-ranked opponent was then-No. 8 Villanova — but it has already beaten back a Tobacco Road blueblood, hammering North Carolina 57-45 at the Carrier Dome on Jan. 11. A win for Duke won’t impact the league standings but it would give them a chance to put a conference newcomer in its place, much as the Blue Devils did on Monday night when they entered the maw of Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center and detonated from three-point range en route to an 80-65 win over the 18th-ranked Panthers.

Back on Jan. 4, after Notre Dame upended Duke at home in the ACC opener for both teams, Irish coach Mike Brey proclaimed the Blue Devils were “the team you have to beat in the ACC if you want to look like you belong.”

Syracuse, in a significant if not shocking irony, is the team Duke has to beat in order to reassert its claim that it belongs in the ACC championship race this season. The programs will meet again in Durham. N.C., on Feb. 22 but the regular season title may be out of Duke’s grasp by then if it loses in upstate New York tomorrow.

Despite the hype for this game, one result Saturday won’t echo into eternity. Both programs figure to be good at least as long as the 69-year-old Boeheim and the 66-year-old Krzyzewski are around, and both are sure to remain great friends. Krzyzewski recently hailed Boeheim as “the guy I had the most respect for in the game” and the coach “who I thought as brilliant and different than me.”

Boeheim, meanwhile, said, “It’s just been a great relationship. Coaching is such a competitive field. You’re not going to have a lot of friends in coaching because you’re trying to beat each other’s brains in for the most part. It’s good to have a really good friend in coaching. It’s been great.”

It just won’t be great for one of them on Saturday night.

8 comments
TheDistrict
TheDistrict

You can't tell me that there hasn't been something very dirty going on at Duke all these years. Everyone around them is cheating...yet you think they are clean? Right...

mikeyjones
mikeyjones

Umm, Villanova was ranked 8th when Syracuse hammered them back in late December. Some more homework was needed before you wrote this article evidently!

V M
V M

I saw a sign at the Carrier Dome during one of Connecticut's visits in the old Big East during the early 2000's. It read "Jimmie B Vs. Jimmie  C….nothing but class."  Well, Jimmie Calhoun has retired, and Syracuse has moved to the ACC. But this coaching match-up between Coach K and Coach Boeheim should prove just as competitive and classy as the old rivalry between Boeheim and Calhoun. Two giants who have their egos in check and truly care about their players. Ask either of them about an obscure bench warmer from 15 years ago, and they'll each tell you where the guy lives, the names of his wife and kids, what he's up to lately and, likely, what they talked about when they spoke just a few weeks ago! Two of the very best in all respects, coaching, community involvement, and mentoring.

IcemanDallas
IcemanDallas

@mikeyjones It doesn't matter where they were ranked when the game was played. Early season rankings are based on gut feel of the voters. As the season plays out these polls, for the most part, correct themselves. Syracuse has played a weak schedule and will self-correct by March!

msw26porn
msw26porn

@IcemanDallas @mikeyjonesAlso, if the 'weak schedule' criticism of SU stands, it is even more true of the other two undefeated tap-10 ranked teams: Arizona and Wichita State.

msw26porn
msw26porn

@IcemanDallas @mikeyjonesWhile I would agree that the only rankings that matter are the ones in late March, the system of rankings is really all we have to judge how tough this season's schedule has been for anyone. Syracuse has beaten beaten both Villanova and Pitt, two currently ranked teams. BTW: Although I've been a Syracuse fan since 1970, when I started watching Roy's Runts in Manley Field House, I would agree that Syracuse is over-ranked. However, they are AT LEAST Sweet 16 material and will probably make it to the Elite 8. And if they play well, SU can beat any team in the country.

bjvande
bjvande

@IcemanDallas @mikeyjones  Then, you need to throw out Duke's win over Pittsburgh, as Syracuse has already beaten Pittsburgh this season.   
The point about the home work stands