Duke-St. John’s Preview
(AP) – Mike Krzyzewski is on the verge of yet another coaching milestone.
The Duke coach will become the first men’s coach in Division I history with 1,000 wins on Sunday if his fifth-ranked Blue Devils beat St. John’s.
That milestone could come in the same arena where three seasons ago he became the winningest men’s coach in college basketball’s top tier.
A win at Madison Square Garden would bring his record to 1,000-308 during a career that spans four decades and includes four NCAA tournament titles and 11 Final Fours.
He says the wins that matter most are the ones that bring titles, not milestones, and he calls the forthcoming accomplishment "a heck of a thing … but it’s not a championship."
"In order to win that many games, it’s taken 40 years – that’s a long time, and so you don’t win like that by being in the moment of a single-game accomplishment," he said. "You do it in the accomplishment of what you’re trying to do for an entire season."
For Krzyzewski, it’s the same approach he took three years ago when he drew closer to the record of 902 career wins – a mark held by his college coach and mentor, Bob Knight. He passed Knight in November 2011 by beating Michigan State in the Garden.
Now – after consecutive surprising losses briefly put history on hold – Coach K is in position to earn yet another memorable victory there.
He insists it will be just another win. His players for the Blue Devils (16-2) know differently.
"When I was trying to decide what university I wanted to attend, being a part of Coach K’s legacy had a big part in me coming here," said freshman big man Jahlil Okafor, a preseason All-American. "So I’m excited for it."
Reaching four figures is of secondary concern to Krzyzewski, who wants the focus on his freshman-dominated team and its chase for the program’s first ACC tournament title since 2011 and its first national title and Final Four since 2010.
He figures that finally getting past the distractions that come with pursuing and reaching 1,000 wins will put the attention back on the players.
"When it happens, and if it happens, hopefully it happens sooner than later, I’ll be very proud of it, but I’ll try to get beyond it right away because we’ll have a next game right away and I don’t want it to interfere in the season," he said. "I don’t want it to be the season – I want it to be the next game. That’s the way I’ve tried to approach things."
St. John’s (13-5) was ranked as high as 15th in the AP poll in late December, but it’s dropped four of six games since Big East play began.
Those two wins, though, have come in its past three games with a 71-67 loss at DePaul sandwiched in between. The Red Storm shot 50.9 percent in an 83-70 win at Providence on Jan. 14 and held Marquette to 31.7 percent shooting in a 60-57 win at MSG on Wednesday.
To have a chance at spoiling Coach K’s coronation, they’ll likely have to figure out a way to get D’Angelo Harrison out of his shooting slump. The senior guard is second in the Big East with 19.5 points per game, but he’s scored 11 in each of the last two while shooting a combined 5 for 28.
Forward Sir’Dominic Pointer, who had 15 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and six blocks against Marquette, thinks a few rough games from Harrison might not be the worst thing.
"We have a good team. This year we were dependent on (D’Angelo) but we have other people who can step up and that helps the team out," Pointer said. "When you have a bad night we can still win and that will help us in the tournament and further down the line."
Harrison had 21 points as a freshman the last time these teams met, an 83-76 Duke victory in Durham on Jan. 28, 2012. The Blue Devils lost at MSG to St. John’s the previous year.
The common element in Duke’s losses was hot shooting – particularly from beyond the arc – by North Carolina State and Miami, but St. John’s seems unlikely to do the same. The Red Storm attempt just 16.2 3s per game and connect on 31.8 percent – including an 8-for-35 mark over the past two.
Fighting Okafor, Justise Winslow and Amile Jefferson on the glass figures to be a difficult task as well. Duke has a plus-7.0 rebound differential, while St. John’s minus-2.2 margin is one of the nation’s worst among major-conference teams.