They will throw the records away Saturday as they always do whenever Army and Navy tussle, regardless of sport, regardless of season. For the past 12 years, that has been the saving grace for Army whenever West Point and Annapolis have met on the football field … though, truthfully, even pretending to be 0-0 hasn’t helped much. This time, though, it is the Navy men’s basketball team that comes to the fray at Christl Arena with the meager numbers, 7-15 overall, just 2-9 in the Patriot League. It is Army that comes in hot, 12-10 and 8-3, winners of 11 of their past 14 games. And that, naturally, has Army head coach Zach Spiker more than a little on edge. Because that’s what an Army-Navy game does to both sides of the hyphen. “Their record, our record, they mean nothing and they know that and we know that,” Spiker said Friday, walking from his car on post to his office at the Holleder Center, half-joking (actually, probably more than half) that once he finished this phone call he was shutting off the phone, locking his door and starting a marathon date with a stack of Navy DVDs. “This much we both know, too,” Spiker said. “Whatever we think is going to happen … something else, something crazy will happen. A kid who never plays will have a big game. A huge lead will evaporate. And it is going to be the most physical game of the year in college basketball.” Army hasn’t often enjoyed this view, from the upper hand of this rivalry. You know about its dusty history as a cradle of superstar coaches. Bob Knight cut his teeth here in the late ’60s, helped by a hardscrabble Chicago point guard named Mike Krzyzewski. Krzyzewski got his start here, too, and so did Tates Locke, who hired Knight. Locke and Knight went 8-0 against Navy from 1964-71. Krzyzewski was 3-2, his two losses by a total of six points, and there aren’t two defeats in his career that have stayed with him longer or haunted him worse. But in the 40 games between the academies that followed Krzyzewski’s departure to Duke in 1980, Navy won 35. Some of that — a small sum — can be attributed to David Robinson, but most of it was this: Navy basketball became a genuine mid-major power, not unlike its present football status. Army became a basketball graveyard. And that fact tore at a lot of people. It is impossible to stroll the grounds at West Point and not be moved by the cadets who study there, the athletes who compete there. You are never alone walking those plains, because there are ghosts everywhere, and reminders, and it is all but impossible to shake the famous words of an old Army baseball player named Douglas MacArthur: “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory.” “What you have here,” Spiker said, “is the ultimate team environment. You don’t find this on a lot of other campuses. There are a lot of coaches who have very successful programs who work awfully hard and who strive for what we’ve already got.” The negative pull of history can be rugged. When Spiker was hired off Steve Donahue’s staff at Cornell in 2009, it had been 24 years since Army basketball had tasted a winning season. The last of the program’s eight NIT bids came in 1978. And Army has a one-fifth share of the most dubious of all college-basketball trivia categories: the five schools eligible since the NCAA Tournament’s advent in 1939 to never get an invite. And among Citadel, William & Mary, Northwestern and St. Francis of New York, Army has the highest winning percentage of any of them (with a win Saturday, the all-time mark would be, remarkably, 1,160-1,161). Spiker had a splendid pedigree, having worked with Gregg Marshall at Winthrop and John Beilein at West Virginia and he helped Donahue build Cornell into an unlikely Sweet 16 team by recruiting the same kinds of players he would need at Army: smart, self-starting, efficient. Last year, that was enough to end one streak: the Cadets finished 16-15.
It’s a game they should win, but don’t tell Army that
New York Post | Feb 8