I’m a sucker for the start of conference play in the ACC. Especially when ESPN trots out commercials of previews of Big Monday and Super Tuesday – usually colossal conference games in mid-January and throughout February. By this time, Division 1 men’s hoops teams have normally played over half of their schedule and we know who they are at that point. Yesterday, I flipped on the TV after 21 consecutive weekends of football dominating my game-watching schedule to the biggest rivalry in college basketball, Virginia Tech hosting second-ranked Virginia. I’m kidding, especially from a kid who grew up inches from the TV two nights every Spring to see the Blue Devils squash the Tar Heels in my beloved Tobacco Road rivalry. In the last 5 years as a Hokie graduate, I’ve been watching Virginia Tech scramble for a way to reach some sort of significance in the daunting ACC. A hire of electric Buzz Williams over the summer was one of many moves to shoot Virginia Tech to at least the middle of the pack in ACC play. Yet, on the heels of a sixth consecutive loss to the Hoos and zero wins in conference to this point, the Virginia Tech athletic department should be definitively satisfied as a football school for the moment. And why not, with Coach Frank Beamer as the longest tenured coach in NCAA football with the most active wins.
Many Tech faithful have been calling for Beamer’s job the past three seasons for his lack of ten-win seasons and absence from an ACC title opportunity. I think we should be thanking the man that has brought such prowess and financial security to a program that was almost defunct in the 1980s. Coach Mike Krzyzewski brought this spirit to the Duke Blue Devils basketball program around the same time. Yesterday, Coach K collected his 1,000th victory as a Division 1 head coach, a feat no other man has accomplished. What a pair the coach and the university have been. There has been no staple in conference more than the man with the jet black hair, leading Duke to 13 ACC Championships in 35 years as coach.
On January 7, Duke sat at 14-0 and Number 2 in the polls. In the last 15 seasons, Duke has gone at least 14-0 to start the season five times, an unbelievable stat1. Approaching 1,000 wins, the team faltered back to back in-conference games at NC State and at home versus Miami. Coach K, sitting at 997 wins, would take his team on the road for four out of the next five games with a chance to pick-up number 1,000 in Madison Square Garden against St. Johns, a typical non-conference January showdown. On Sunday in a rare postgame interview, Gus Johnson found his way to Coach K after a roaring comeback that saw his team finish the game on a 26-7 run after the 8:36 mark in the second half. Krzyzewski looked relieved and thanked his guys for pulling together as a unit.
Career milestone or not, Coach K will have his team focused for two top-ten opponents this week, on the road at Notre Dame and Virginia. After 35 years of coaching at such a high level and with the gauntlet of conference games always wreaking havoc on stock in the NCAA tournament, Coach K is a stalwart on getting his guys ready for the next game and getting in position to capture an ACC title, preparing them for a road towards the NCAA championship. In the day and age that we see the gesture to the media of “only focused on the next opponent” as a blockade to any internal knowledge of the team, Coach K has carried out his business as consistently as humanly possible.
As local newspapers in Virginia continue to pardon Virginia Tech’s pesky attempts as moral victories in a three-point loss to Virginia on Sunday, I love to envision Buzz Williams as Tech’s coach for the next 35 years. Who knows if conference realignment shifts the ACC to an unrecognizable institution in the next decade or so, but I cherish the opportunity for Virginia Tech to host Duke at least once a year. For Buzz to see on-hand the approach Coach K brings to both sides of the floor and how he wills his team to wins time and again. With Virginia laying claim to ACC dominance, the Hokies will need to find a way to rival in-state recruiting. Coach K found a way.
If I can remember correctly, men by the name of Smith and Jordan ran the show in the state of North Carolina in the early ’80s.