Throughout his stellar coaching career, Mike Krzyzewski has done his best to downplay his many individual milestones. He’ll have a tough time doing that if he records perhaps his greatest coaching achievement in Duke’s next contest.
Krzyzewski takes his first crack at surpassing his coach and mentor Bob Knight atop the NCAA Division I men’s victory list Tuesday night as the sixth-ranked Blue Devils face versus Michigan State in the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Now in the 37th season of a coaching career at Army and Duke, Krzyzewski tied Knight with his 902nd win Saturday as Duke (2-0) rolled to a 96-55 victory over Presbyterian. Knight, who coached Krzyzewski at Army in the 1960s and will be at MSG on Tuesday calling the game for ESPN, appears eager for his former pupil to pass him as the game’s winningest coach.
“He says to me, ‘Michael … Can you tell your kids to win those three games real quick?’” Krzyzewski said. “I said, ‘Coach, yeah, those first three, every game’s important.’ He says, ‘No, no, not for that. I’m getting tired of saying nice things about you.’”
Krzyzewski, who has won four national championships, been to 11 Final Fours and guided teams to 13 ACC tournament titles in three-plus decades at Duke, is trying to keep his focus on the Spartans while “not trying to hide the significance” of the record.
“I’d rather go out and try to win this game for the right reasons, and the residual is you get 903,” said Krzyzewski, who is 829-225 in 31 seasons in Durham. “I mean, that’s another perk you get from it. That’s not the perk. The perk is beating Michigan State, going 3-0 and becoming a better team. And then things add up.
“I’m good about not making it that big of a thing, even though I know it’s a big thing. I’m not minimizing it.”
Krzyzewski insists his pursuit of the record has not been a distraction. His players are trying to follow their coach’s example.
“We want to win for Coach, but we want to win every game,” said junior forward Ryan Kelly, who scored a game-high 17 points off the bench versus Presbyterian. “That’s how we approach it, and that’s how Coach approaches it. He’s just worried about the game at hand. Numbers are a nice thing, but we need to worry about our team right now.”
With only one senior on their roster, the Blue Devils could face a stiff challenge trying to improve to 7-2 all-time against Michigan State. Forward Mason Plumlee, who has scored 13 points in each of the first two games this season, had 10 with 10 rebounds when then-No. 1 Duke beat the sixth-ranked Spartans 84-79 at Camden Indoor Stadium on Dec. 1.
Hoping his team can bounce back from a 67-55 season-opening loss to top-ranked North Carolina on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson on Friday, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo admits his squad could be part of a special night for a second straight game.
“I told my guys, ‘This is about our chance because we’re playing the game, too,’” Izzo said. “Really, it’s neat to be playing a game like this. Once the game starts, I hope it will be about the game.”
In order to pull off the upset, the Spartans will need to improve after shooting 30.6 percent overall and 2 for 20 from 3-point range against the Tar Heels. Senior Draymond Green, who had 13 points and a career-high 18 rebounds Friday, scored 16 points in last season’s loss to Duke.
Blue Devils freshman guard Austin Rivers has totaled a team-leading 31 points over the first two games.