HOUSTON (AP)—Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski cringes at the notion that his teams have failed to live up to the program’s high standards in recent years.
The Blue Devils (31-5), the top seed in the South Regional, will try to reach the round of eight for the first time since 2004 when they face No. 4 seed Purdue (29-5) on Friday night.
Duke leads all teams with a .750 winning percentage in the tournament (a 90-30 record), but the road has ended in the regional semifinals in three of the last five seasons, with losses to lower-seeded teams. The Blue Devils didn’t even survive the opening weekend in 2007 and ’08.
Krzyzewski counters critics by pointing to the 11 trips to the round of 16 in 13 seasons and the 111 victories over the past four seasons. Sure, Duke hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2004, but Krzyzewski would rather face the challenge of getting the program back than leading one to its first.
“Since and never,” Krzyzewski said. “Try to look at those words and see which category you would rather be in. We like being in the ‘since’ category.”
Purdue’s pedigree leans toward the ‘never,’ with no Final Four appearances since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Boilermakers are back in the regional semifinals for the second straight year, but haven’t advanced to the round of eight since 2000.
They’re a mild surprise to be in Houston at all, after losing junior forward Robbie Hummel to a knee injury in late February. They’ve adjusted on the fly and the process of moving on without their second-leading scorer and rebounder has ranged from passable to downright ugly.
The Boilermakers mustered 16 second-half points in their first game without their star, a 53-44 loss to Michigan State. They won their next three games, then scored an abysmal 11 points in the first half of a 69-42 loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament.
“The wheels fell off for us at that point,” coach Matt Painter said. “But we really didn’t dwell on it too much. We know we have a good team.”
The debacle against Minnesota proved to be a valuable teaching tool for Painter, and the Boilermakers have gotten contributions from several players in their first two tournament games:
— Keaton Grant, who became a starter when Hummel was hurt, scored 11 points in the second half of a 72-64 win over Siena in the first round.
— 6-foot-10 center JaJuan Johnson scored 23 points and grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds in the opener.
— Chris Kramer, primarily known for his defense, hit the game-winning layup and scored 17 points in Purdue’s 63-61 overtime win against Texas A&M in the second round.
“I think that (Minnesota) game really helped us understand that we have to have different people step up, make plays, make shots,” Painter said. “That was a problem for us, just not being aggressive and not playing together.”
Hummel watched Purdue practice on Thursday from a folding chair, with both knees wrapped in bandages. Painter likes having the 6-8 junior here with the team, even if it is a constant reminder of what the Boilermakers won’t have against the Blue Devils.
“I think it’s always good to have an extra set of eyes on your bench, especially with a guy that has the experience that Rob does,” Painter said.
Painter doesn’t need Hummel to point out that Duke has a size advantage at every starting position. Outside of Johnson, the Boilermakers have no starter taller than 6-4, while Duke’s starting frontcourt trio averages almost 7 feet.
“We’re going to have to establish ourselves early on the offensive end, especially on the glass,” said 7-1 Blue Devils center Brian Zoubek. “We’ve just got to take advantage of it.”
Duke lost to Villanova in last year’s round of 16, and senior Jon Scheyer conceded that the team felt “a little happy to be there.” This year’s squad is more focused and motivated to restore the program’s legacy—even if Krzyzewski does say that he’s satisfied with what this group has already accomplished.
“I know people talk to me about the streak, with us not going past the Sweet 16, but things like that happened before we could control things,” Scheyer said. “So for us, we just want to try to re-establish the program. It’s always been a great program, obviously, and we just want to get it back to where it’s been.”