Commentary

Devils have chance to create own legacy

Originally Published: April 4, 2010
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Every Duke player thinks about creating his own legacy by winning a national title. It's hard not to considering the banners that hang in Cameron Indoor Stadium. After beating West Virginia 78-57 on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, this year's Blue Devils have a chance to hang their own banner if they can beat Butler on Monday night.

[+] EnlargeMike Krzyzewski
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesMike Krzyzewski will be aiming for his fourth national championship when Duke plays Butler.

"You want to leave your mark at Duke," forward Kyle Singler said. "There is a little legacy involved. It's great now. Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] has been here before, but the great thing about Coach is that he's not satisfied and won't let us settle for getting to the championship game. He demands our attention and focus, and I think that's a great quality of his."

It has worked well for this group, one that has overachieved at times but more than anything has been opportunistic to put itself into a position to play for a national title. If the Blue Devils beat the hometown Bulldogs, they will become one of the least likely and certainly less hyped and less talented Duke teams to hang a banner.

Krzyzewski made sure to say that the Blue Devils aren't going for their fourth national title. He is, but that's not something he'll promote.

"They're going for their first national championship," Krzyzewski said. "Getting to the tournament as freshmen and winning 22 games was tough when they didn't have a senior. And then they won 28 and 30 games, and while they didn't go as far as they'd like in the tournament, they kept getting better. They had a lot of character. We're a really good team that has great character."

How did this happen? Well, a few key things occurred for the Blue Devils.

1. The bracket opened up.

Duke was never the top-rated team this season. Four teams -- Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas -- shared that honor, and the Longhorns were the only team that didn't have the staying power to be a No. 1 seed in the tournament.

Then, Kansas was stunned by Northern Iowa in the second round in Oklahoma City. Syracuse got beaten by Butler in the Sweet 16 in Salt Lake City. And Kentucky was beaten by West Virginia in the Elite Eight.

2. The Blue Devils had a three-pronged perimeter in Nolan Smith, Singler and Jon Scheyer that was consistently good throughout the season. The trio outscored the Mountaineers 63-57 on Saturday.

"They were outstanding," Krzyzewski said. "If the three of them play like that, we're going to win, we have a chance to win."

[+] EnlargeKyle Singler and Jon Scheyer
Bob Donnan/US PresswireJon Scheyer and Kyle Singler combined for 44 points against West Virginia in the Blue Devils' victory.
3. Duke senior center Brian Zoubek continued to be the X factor for the Blue Devils on Saturday. He grabbed 10 rebounds, scored 6 points and had 3 assists in 27 minutes. He took up space and was a factor on nearly every possession he had in the game.

"We felt we had a good shot [to win the title in the preseason]," Singler said. "But we didn't know that Brian was going to be the player he was going to be or the big guys would contribute like they are doing. You could say that was a surprise."

Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils' ability to grow together throughout the season led them to the point where they are playing for a national title.

"It was a lot of hard work," Zoubek said. "You should see our practices every single day. God, I'm tired of practice."

Duke has one more practice Sunday.

"One more, I know, but it's a good one, and it's one I wanted to have," Zoubek said. "We work hard every single day, especially our big group. Wojo [Duke assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski] kills us every day and made us into a championship team."

4. The Blue Devils learned how to win in a variety of ways.

Unlike in recent years, Duke doesn't have NBA draft lottery stars. Instead, the Devils have had to change their approach and play much more of a half-court game, lean on their defense and not be an extended defensive team or one that tries to beat teams off the dribble.

"We can't impose our will with full-court defense, so you have to try to take away some things on the defensive end," Krzyzewski said. "On the offensive end, we shared the ball well. We haven't turned the ball over that much. Against West Virginia we had 20 assists and only six turnovers."

5. This Duke team was never overwhelmed by the pressure to be a champion.

Duke was dominant at home this season. But the Blue Devils lost early on the road to Wisconsin, Georgia Tech and NC State. They were overrun at Georgetown and played well but just couldn't finish at Maryland. As such, there wasn't an expectation that this team had to be the champion.

"We know how hard it is," Scheyer said. "Who knows if these guys will get back? It's been a crazy path that we've been on, but we've built up each year, and it says a lot about my classmates to do it in our last year."

Now only 40 minutes and an upstart Butler team stand in the Blue Devils' path.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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