Prior to Saturday’s win against Maryland, head coach Mike Krzyzewski showed his team film from two games in his program’s history. The first video was from a contest that even 20 years later holds a place in college basketball lore, when Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils took down Jerry Tarkanian’s then-undefeated UNLV squad in the 1991 Final Four. In that game, Duke overcame its biggest obstacle of the season, but still had to keep its focus in order to win the ensuing championship game and bring home Krzyzewski’s first national title.
“To me, one of the biggest things that’s happened in my career was that team not just winning the national championship, but winning the national championship after our fans thought we had already won [by beating UNLV],” Krzyzewski said.
This year’s team had defeated North Carolina in equally miraculous fashion, but still needed to keep its eyes on the road ahead.
“In order to be a champion, to be exceptional,” Krzyzewski said, “you have to go on to the next thing.”
But Krzyzewski had his team watch film from another, more recent game as well—Duke’s 77-56 defeat of Maryland on Feb. 13, 2010. That matchup lacks instant-classic status, but it may have been the most crucial game for this year’s team to emulate.
That Saturday in 2010, the Blue Devils were 20-4, having just beaten North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Possessing a balanced scoring attack but not an obvious superstar, they had been handed their first loss in late November, when they lost on the road to Wisconsin in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. They suffered their second loss right at the end of Winter break, again on the road, to Georgia Tech. And they had picked up two more tough losses in the latter half of January, getting beaten soundly by North Carolina State and Georgetown.
Almost exactly two years after that 21-point victory over Maryland, Duke also stood at 20-4 with its last win having come at the Dean E. Smith Center. The team again lost for the first time in the ACC-Big Ten challenge, falling to Ohio State in Columbus. History was repeated once more at the end of winter break when Temple handed Duke a surprise road defeat. Since then, Duke has fallen twice more, and even though those losses were closer than their 2010 counterparts, they occurred at Cameron Indoor Stadium. And again, a wider scoring distribution has been critical to this year’s team, which does not have an obvious go-to player.
Krzyzewski specifically addressed two players after watching the Maryland footage. He approached Mason and Miles Plumlee, and told them to notice Brian Zoubek’s 16-point, 17-rebound outburst in the 2010 contest. Heading into that game, Zoubek had played 15.2 minutes per game, averaging 4.9 points and 6.2 rebounds. Miles Plumlee—who, like Zoubek in 2010, is the biggest player on the roster and sports a fledgling beard—has posted a similar line so far, with averages of 17.3 minutes, 6.3 points and 5.8 rebounds.
There are plenty of stark differences between the 2010 squad and this year’s team, and even Krzyzewski admitted that he had an “older and better” team two years ago. But in the wake of his team’s 73-55 defeat of the Terrapins Sunday, Krzyzewski’s choice of film appears prescient, especially given Miles Plumlee’s best Zoubek impression with 13 points and 22 boards.
Zoubek averaged 24.1 minutes the rest of the season, with 6.2 points and 10.1 rebounds, and the team went on to glory on the national stage. Their only blemish was a loss late in the regular season to then-No.22 Maryland on the road, and this year’s squad likely has a similar obstacle in its Feb. 23 road date with No. 15 Florida State. Although any specific comparisons or expectations would be premature, Krzyzewski’s preparation and his team’s execution Sunday could be further signs of an upward trend for Duke.
Austin Rivers spoke after the game about Miles Plumlee’s team-oriented performance that was reminiscent of the way Zoubek had played, and said he sees a similar team-first mentality in this year’s play.
“That’s why our team is headed in the right direction,” Rivers said.
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