BOSTON – Mike Krzyzewski witnessed the onslaught from the Duke bench, his chin resting calmly on his right hand. There wasn't much else he could do. He'd occasionally get up and make a suggestion to a player but as the second half ran down and Villanova ran it up, 77-54, the options were limited. He just took it.
"Villanova outplayed us," he said.
Villanova did outplay Duke, but that wasn't all. Villanova is better than Duke. It has better players. It has better ball-handlers. It has better big men. Villanova is an elite team with a shot at a national title.
"They've got a chance to do something special," Krzyzewski marveled.
Duke doesn't. Special for this Duke team was maximizing its way to an ACC tournament title, albeit without having to face North Carolina. Krzyzewski loved this team for being a joy to coach and making the most of what they had. And that's fine. But that isn't the Duke we've known for the past few decades.
This was the Blue Devils' worst NCAA tournament loss since UNLV crushed them by 30 in the 1990 title game. Things were so lopsided that Villanova fans spent the final minutes chanting about Saturday's regional final game against rival Pitt, rather than soaking in the joy of the victory.
Not since before Krzyzewski arrived in Durham has beating Duke been so anticlimactic.
The Blue Devils are no longer the Blue Devils. They're just another good program. Good, not great. They don't have what Duke is accustomed to having. They haven't for years. When they get into the grown-men rounds of the NCAA tournament, they don't stand a chance.
It's been five seasons now since the Blue Devils advanced past the Sweet 16, an accomplishment that used to be a rite of spring for the program. That was when Krzyzewski was annually signing the nation's best players, turning out NBA talent at all five positions. Now, he's looking over at Villanova and dreaming of what Jay Wright trots out there.
"I love Villanova's team," he said after the game, more than once.
A coach who once had the luxury of leaving McDonald's All-Americans at the end of the bench is now desperate for an infusion of talent. He's got too many nice kids and not enough great athletes.
He needs a real post player. "And a point," he admitted.
"[Villanova] played a lot of five on three tonight," he said.
Did you ever think you'd hear Krzyzewski say that? Not enough talent? Not enough players? Villanova is a good program, with a terrific coach. Not in decades has it had appreciably more talent than Duke.
The Blue Devils' last NCAA title team, in 2001, featured a starting five that all went to the NBA. This club may have two: Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler.
This team was a jump-shooting club that on this night couldn't shoot straight – 5 of 27 from 3-point range. The offense was a mess, scoring a measly 54 points. Nothing worked. This looked nothing like those well-oiled machines of year's past. If he could, Krzyzewski would have called for Tommy Amaker, who watched the game from the second row of the Garden with his wife.
"It's not like we haven't tried to find them," Krzyzewski said of his team's missing post presence and quarterback. "A couple of them have gone to other schools right at the last second."
It boils down to recruiting. Duke still is involved with the very best players in the country.
Right now it's either targeting the wrong guys or doing a poor job in head-to-head battles with other elite programs. The Blue Devils do have a couple good big men signed for next year, but no elusive point guard who can drive the lane and defend the perimeter – the Amaker or Jay Williams type.
Krzyzewski disagrees with the suggestion that his three summer tour of duty with USA Basketball hurt the program, but the question will continue to be asked so long as the recent results beg it. He brought home gold from Beijing, but now its time to do it on the recruiting trail.
"I thought the last three years we've gotten better," he said. "And this year's team was really a good team."
You can't argue with 30 victories and that ACC title. This was a good team. But years ago it used to be Duke who hammered good opponents in the Sweet 16, Duke who was the most feared draw in the tournament, Duke who was the one constant of March Madness.
It was other teams who would look around after the game and just shrug, knowing they never stood a chance.
It was other coaches who had to sit on the bench in silence, marveling at the quality of an opponent they knew they couldn't beat.
- Mike Krzyzewski