Thumbing through the NCAA basketball record book awhile back, I came upon this stat:
Consecutive NCAA-tournament victories: UCLA, 38.
File that one under “Records That Will Never Be Broken.”
Runnerup in that category is 13.
Thirty-eight, of course, was accomplished under the legendary John Wooden, so you might find my thesis curious: That you can make a case that Mike Krzyzewski, who just won his 1,000th game as a college coach, has become the equal of Wooden.
More probably, it’s a debate of apples and oranges – so different is the landscape of the sport now and in Wooden’s day. (And while we’re at it, let’s note the 40th anniversary of his retirement, which came with a national title in 1975.)
First, a few thoughts on 1,000:
- It doesn’t seem so long ago that the number on which everybody focused was 876. That was the record established by Adolph Rupp at Kentucky, and he retired in 1972. Then Dean Smith of North Carolina overtook him in 1997 with 879, before Bob Knight tapped out with 902. Then Krzyzewski surpassed everybody, and in the meantime, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim has become No. 2 on the list with 962. It’s conceivable that if Krzyzewski’s Duke team, say, won it all and he retired after this year, Boeheim might pass him.
- How to put in perspective 1,000 wins? If you win 30 a year, which is a heck of an achievement, you need to do that 33 times. And then win 10 more.
- If you’re going to go record-setting, start young. Krzyzewski was 28 when named head coach at Army, and 33 when Duke selected him.
- It also helps to become entrenched at one school (see Boeheim). If you trace the path of most coaches with long tenures, they move a couple of times, and often when they take a new job, it’s because that program has been struggling and there’s a rebuilding period. Krzyzewski (and Boeheim) have been able to skirt that through their longevity.
But, to Wooden: I happened to hear a Sirius radio segment the other day on which Steven Bardo, the former Illinois guard now an analyst, was asked where he thought Krzyzewski stood. He said he thought he was No. 2 all-time.
To Wooden, obviously? No, to Bob Knight.
Indeed, when I saw Knight’s teams play in person for the first time, there was something poetic about the way they functioned. They seemed to be five players as one, perhaps more so than any I ever remember.
But Bardo, asked about Wooden, dinged him for the fact Wooden had the very best couple of players during his reign – Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton – and that assessment doesn’t seem entirely fair. While this is about coaching, in the strict sense of the word, you can’t ignore the ability to recruit, either.
Wooden’s success, as prodigious as it was, came at a time when the game was almost embryonic in its scope compared to the vastness of today’s 351 Division 1 teams. (It’s ironic that Wooden’s retirement year of 1975 was the first in which the NCAA allowed more than one team from a conference to go to the NCAA tournament.)
If you won the conference, you were automatically in the Sweet 16 in Wooden’s day. And even as Krzyzewski’s run has been magnificent, his Duke team has been tripped in its first game in recent years by the likes of Lehigh and Mercer.
Wooden won 10 national titles, Krzyzewski has won four. Those are tough numbers to compare, even with the disparate eras. Ten is crazy, even back then. Four is incredibly difficult.
Wooden operated in a much more stable environment, one without freshmen eligibility and without one-and-done departures to the NBA. Imagine the relative turbulence if Alcindor or Walton had declared for the pros after their sophomore seasons.
Here’s how different the landscape was: The year before Wooden won his first title, 1963, television rights for the tournament totaled $140,000. It wasn’t until 1966 that net income – primarily gate receipts and TV rights fees – exceeded $500,000.
In 2013, TV revenue from the tournament was $684 million.
Finally, and maybe this is splitting hairs, nothing untoward has ever been attached to Krzyzewski. And none of the excesses of UCLA’s infamous booster, Sam Gilbert, were officially tagged to the Wooden era (the Bruins were hit with violations after his retirement). But former Bruins have told reporters Gilbert was a key figure in improper benefits while Wooden admitted he wasn’t inclined to be zealous in looking for indiscretions.
This isn’t to discredit Wooden. In the last 60 years, I’d consider him and Krzyzewski probably the foremost statesmen in college basketball.
And What’s More . . .
- ESPN analyst Dan Dakich is due in Iowa City Saturday for what could be a prickly appearance at the Iowa-Wisconsin game. When the teams met recently, Dakich called Iowa’s Adam Woodbury “cowardly” for two incidents in which Woodbury’s fingers poked the eyes of Badgers. Woodbury has denied it was on purpose, and Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffrey called Dakich’s comments “reprehensible” and “inexcusable.”
- From ESPN stats: Not since March 10, 1997 has an AP poll been like the current one, without Syracuse (14-7), Michigan State (13-7), Michigan (12-8), Florida (10-9) and defending NCAA champ Connecticut (11-7).
- When Wichita State visits Northern Iowa Saturday, it will be two teams that were 18-2 entering Wednesday night, and remarkably, the first matchup of ranked Missouri Valley teams since 1982.
- The bottom of the MVC is manned by Drake (4-16), where second-year coach Ray Giacoletti – ex-Washington and Gonzaga assistant and Eastern Washington head man – has a young roster, including two starting freshman guards.
- In case you’ve lost track of another ex-local, Franklin High grad Trent Johnson is coaching TCU (14-5), and he had a brutal 86-85 overtime loss at West Virginia Saturday. Ahead of the 18th-ranked Mountaineers by five with a minute left in OT, TCU gave up a go-ahead three-pointer with 11 seconds left, took the lead with a coast-to-coast basket, then succumbed when it allowed a long outlet pass, fouled WVU’s Jevon Carter shooting a layup and he made two free throws with 0.9 seconds left.
- Memphis (12-7) is coming to Gonzaga Saturday, and it might not be the test the Zags could use. The Tigers, led in scoring by forward Austin Nichols at 12.9, don’t handle the ball very well or shoot it (.448). Memphis, winners of six of seven in the series since 2005, has been a thorn like no other to the Zags, and this looks like a spot ripe for payback.
- The RPI conference rankings have the Big 12, Big East, ACC, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 Nos. 1-6. The WCC is No. 9, the Mountain West 12th, Big West 13th, Big Sky 26th and the WAC 31st.
- Eastern Washington (15-5) could scale unprecedented heights. It hasn’t won more than 15 since 2004, the year Giacoletti took EWU to its only NCAA tournament, and since the Eagles joined the Big Sky in 1987-88, they haven’t won more than 18.
- Eastern is bent on winning the Big Sky regular-season title, which, for the final year, allows the champion to host the league tournament. The league is entertaining a bidding process for cities interested in hosting starting in 2016.
- Eleven of 14 Big Ten schools average more than 10,000 fans. Only Rutgers, Penn State and Northwestern don’t.
The week ahead
Headlining is No. 4 Duke at second-ranked Virginia at 4 p.m. Saturday (ESPN). Three hours before, at 1 p.m., 13th-ranked North Carolina visits No. 10 Louisville (ESPN). If you tire of watching the bluebloods, catch Wichita State (12th) at Northern Iowa (18th) on ESPN2, opposite Carolina-Louisville.
In a nightcap, third-ranked Gonzaga meets unranked Memphis in Spokane at 7 p.m. (ESPN2).
Monday night, Virginia, in a killer stretch of the schedule, visits North Carolina at 4 on ESPN, followed by Iowa State (15th) at Kansas (9th).
All games/Minimum 2 seasons
- Lew Alcindor (1967-69), UCLA, 26.4
- Harold Miner (1990-92), USC, 23.5
- Mel Counts (1962-64), OSU, 22.2
- Terrell Brandon (1990-91), UO, 22.2
- Ike Diogu (2003-05), ASU, 20.7