Mike Krzyzewski his Duke program has under-performed for more than half a decade, that the glory days are gone and the Blue Devils mystique is as relevant as Kansas' national title prospects.HOUSTON, Texas — Don't tell
He knows better.
"There are two words when you compete that are interesting — 'Since' and 'Never.' I'm glad we're in the 'Since.' Let me leave it at that."
Krzyzewski didn't leave it, of course. Not during Thursday afternoon's press conference leading to Friday night's Sweet 16 game between his top-seeded Blue Devils team (31-5) and fourth-seeded Purdue (29-5), not in an earlier NCAA Tournament news conference in Jacksonville, Fla. He's built a college basketball powerhouse and if it doesn't roll through the competition the way UCLA did under John Wooden, in these parity-rich times, that's no longer possible.
"There's a reason why not many people win these things over and over again," he said. "It's because it's very difficult. You have a different team each year."
Duke went to 10 Final Fours in an 18-year period that ended in 2004. In the six years "since" then the Blue Devils have been to four Sweet 16s, the NCAA tourney second round once and the first round once. They have won at least 30 games three times, won at least 27 games twice. Their 61 victories the last two years lead the nation.
"Since 2004 we've still gone to Sweet 16s," Krzyzewski said. "We've won as many games as anybody the last two years. You're not always going to win a national championship. You're not always going to get to a Final Four. Those are difficult things to do.
"As long as we're competing for it every year. We've been to the Sweet 16 (11 of the last 13 years). So again, 'Since' and 'Never,' look at those words and see which category you'd rather be in. We like being in the 'Since' category."
Krzyzewski has won a record 73 NCAA Tournament games, 864 overall. He's won three national titles, plus an Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Games in Beijing. If this stretch is a lull, he has no regrets. He said he feels no pressure.
"I love what I do. I do it because I want to compete. If we lose when we're competing and we're competing hard, I'm fine with it. If we win, it's better. The ability to compete at the highest level is what you want to do. These young men have given me a chance to come to Houston and compete for a chance to go to the Elite Eight."
There is the perception that the senior class of Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek has failed to meet the program's lofty expectations because they've never advanced past the Sweet 16. And yet, they've won 111 games in their careers.
"For a while when I dated my wife, I had trouble living up to the expectations of her former boyfriend," Krzyzewski said. "Come on. Just judge people for who they are right now. We're not the Yankees."
"We're not, thank goodness, the Cubs, who are my favorites.
"It's different. It's college. Just give them an opportunity. They've won 111 games. I'm sure that matches up or exceeds most people."
By comparison, Purdue's senior class of Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant have participated in a school-record 103 victories.
Boiler coach Matt Painter appreciates the Blue Devils' consistent success, the fact they play with an "edge" that starts with their competitive coach, that they thrive on toughness and aggressiveness and effort, attributes he tries to instill in his teams.
"To have a chance to beat them," Painter said, "you have to play harder, you have to play tougher, than them. That's probably the ultimate challenge for us."
That Duke continues to provide those "ultimate challenges" is the ultimate measure of its program and this team.
"I love this team for who they are," Krzyzewski said. "They don't have to be perfect. You just have to keep it in perspective. That's another word — 'Since,' 'Never' and 'Perspective.' This is a good thing."
So don't tell Krzyzewski his program has underachieved.
He knows better.