On Saturday in a gleaming palace built for basketball that they call the Chase Center, Mike Krzyzewski will coach in his 1,437th college game. What awaits? Glory or defeat?
No. 2 seed Duke is a win away from making the Final Four and sending Krzyzewski there for the 13th time. With a win over No. 4 seed Arkansas, Krzyzewski would break the tie for most Final Fours in a career with the legendary John Wooden.
"The Final Four is mecca for player and a coach," Krzyzewski said Friday. "It's just -- there's nothing like it."
The Blue Devils (31-6) will face up with the Razorbacks (28-8) in a matchup nearly three decades in the making. The last time Duke and Arkansas played it was on a stage bigger than this: the 1994 national championship game. Arkansas won its only title. Eric Musselman has the Hogs in the Elite Eight for a second consecutive season, a feat last accomplished at the school by those 1994 title-winning Razorbacks, who pushed to the Elite Eight (and then the Final Four) a year later. If Arkansas ends K's career, it would double as the seventh Final Four run in program history.
Krzyzewski opened up a bit on Friday. He shared that, following the home loss to North Carolina to close the regular season (by the way: everyone sees UNC vs. Duke for the first time in NCAA Tournament history, right around the corner, looming like a brontosaurus), subtle but needed changes were made. It's those changes that allowed Duke to grow and, in essence, got them to a Saturday evening in San Francisco with a chance to go to the Final Four.
"During those ten days I learned something, and I saw my team hurt," Krzyzewski said. "Not just by a loss, but by a whole bunch of things. I just had a good meeting with myself. I said that, 'I've got to do something.' I've got to help in some way, and part of it was my approach with them."
Things like this: The NCAA Tournament provides halftimes that are about five minutes longer than what teams have during the season. So, instead of addressing the good and the bad immediately when the team convenes in the locker room, Krzyzewski has been playing it loose.
"I've never done this before, but at Michigan State and again last night when I come in the locker room, I just pull out a chair, and I sit with them for about five minutes and just, okay, here's where we're at, and just talk to them," he said.