Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino are quite familiar playing for tournament championships any time of year.
While the two storied coaches have teams quite capable of winning college basketball's biggest prize come April, they have a chance to bring home the Battle 4 Atlantis title Saturday night when Krzyzewski's fifth-ranked Duke squad clashes with Pitino and No. 2 Louisville in the Bahamas.
The winningest coach in men's Division I history, Krzyzewski has four NCAA tournament titles and eight appearances in the championship game among his 11 Final Four showings. He also has consistently had the Blue Devils (5-0) playing well in tournament settings, and Duke carries a 22-game winning streak in regular-season tournaments after Saturday's 67-58 victory over VCU in the semifinals.
Mason Plumlee had 17 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double in as many games in the Bahamas, but Krzyzewski also lauded the 6-foot-10 senior's ability to help break the Rams' pressure defense along with 6-11 teammate Ryan Kelly.
"These guys played with so much poise, two turnovers total between them,'' Krzyzewski said. "I am most proud of how they handled players who were quicker and again, they showed that poise.''
Plumlee is the focal point for the Blue Devils, averaging 20.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks thus far while shooting 68.6 percent. However, the Blue Devils also are showing a more balanced offense than in 2011-12, when Austin Rivers played more as a combination guard in his only season at Duke.
Duke is averaging 15.6 assists in its 5-0 start - 3.2 more than last season - and five players are averaging at least 2.0 assists. Sophomore guard Quinn Cook had nine Friday and is averaging 7.3 in three games since supplanting Tyler Thornton in the starting lineup.
"I thought Quinn has played two terrific games here,'' Krzyzewski said.
As Krzyzewski has built a legacy at Duke, Pitino's success in the college game has come at multiple stops. He made his sixth Final Four appearance last year - with Louisville being the third school he's taken there - and also has the 1996 NCAA tournament title to his credit while at Kentucky.
The preseason favorite to win the Big East, the Cardinals (5-0) have looked every bit the part in November and are coming off an impressive 84-61 dismantling of No. 13 Missouri in the other semifinal Friday night.
"We consider it a big treat to play them for a championship,'' Pitino said about facing Duke. "We feel we got the guys to play in that championship and win.''
Louisville slowed the up-tempo Tigers with a zone defense that recorded 12 steals and forced 23 turnovers. The Cardinals have reached double figures in steals in all five games while forcing at least 19 turnovers in every contest.
By contrast, Duke is committing 12.8 turnovers per contest and had only eight against a VCU team that led the nation in that category last season.
Offensively, Russ Smith had 18 points and is averaging a team-best 19.6 overall. He shot only 1 for 7 from 3-point range, but Pitino is willing to gamble with his feast-or-famine game from the perimeter to allow fellow guard Peyton Siva - who had 13 points and six assists versus Missouri - to be an effective distributor.
"Every possession you really have your heart in your mouth, but he really hits a lot of home runs,'' Pitino said of Smith. "He bothers everybody, and he allows Peyton to do a lot of good things out there because he is so intense and Peyton knows he is going to gamble. But you have got to give Russ his free reign.''
This is the first meeting between the teams since Louisville defeated Duke 72-69 to win the 1986 NCAA tournament. It's also the first time Pitino will be facing the Blue Devils since a 104-103 overtime loss in the 1992 East Region final while coaching Kentucky that many consider college basketball's greatest game.
- Sports & Recreation
- Rick Pitino
- Mike Krzyzewski