Coach K could be leaving soon, but at least he made it this far.
Retiring Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski could coach his last NCAA Tournament game Thursday night if his No. 2 seed Blue Devils (30-6) can’t get by No. 3 seed Texas Tech (27-9) at the Chase Center in San Francisco (9:39 p.m., CBS).
But don’t bet on it. If he wins, he will be an even 100-30 in NCAA Tournament games since his first one on March 18, 1984, in Pullman, Washington, when Duke fell to Washington, 80-78. The century mark would be a nice round number to sit on along with the most-ever 36 NCAA Tournaments (36) and most-ever Sweet 16s (26) and five fat national championships. He already has 22 more NCAA Tournament wins than the next closest in history, which is 77 by Roy Williams, who retired from North Carolina last year.
Could Coach K get to a 13th Final Four and break his tie at 12 for No. 1 all-time with John Wooden? He’ll have to get by either No. 1 seed Gonzaga (28-3) or No. 4 seed Arkansas (27-8), who also play Thursday in San Francisco (7:09 p.m., CBS).
“I feel for my guys,” said Krzyzewski, whose team has played with the exit cloud over its head all season. “They’ve had pressure put on them that we’ve not put on them.”
So will Texas Tech, which is No. 8 in the nation in fewest points allowed at 60.2 a game. Duke is also No. 8, but in points scored a game at 80.2.
“It’s coach’s last something every game,” Duke forward Paolo Banchero said.
If he makes it to Saturday and wins, Coach K can celebrate 30 years to nearly the day of the Christian Laettner buzzer beater that beat Kentucky, 104-103, in overtime on March 28, 1992, in the East Regional final in Philadelphia. Krzyzewsk went on to oust his mentor, Indiana coach Bobby Knight, 81-78, in Knight’s last Final Four and make the Fab Five look like a lounge act in a 71-51 win in Minneapolis for back-to-back national titles.
So, he’ll be missing from the Dance completely next year. It won’t be the same.
But this year, what’s missing is School K.
The No. 2 seed Kentucky Wildcats played Thursday night in Indianapolis (just 189 miles from Lexington), and no one’s seen ’em since. No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s blocked Kentucky from advancing to the second round, which in the Bluegrass is barely Purgatory, with an 85-79 win in overtime.
That marks the third straight year Kentucky has not won an NCAA Tournament game, and the program is NOT on probation. The Wildcats did not go to the Dance last year after a 9-16 and 8-9 season — the program’s worst since a 3-13 and 1-6 mark in the Southern Conference in 1927. They would have gone in 2020 at 25-6 and 15-3 SEC champions, but COVID canceled everything. COVID or no COVID, that’s three years without an NCAA Tournament win.
The last time Kentucky went so long without a bracket budge was from 1988 through 1991, which included a 13-19 and 8-10 season in 1988-89 under Eddie Sutton and two straight years of postseason ineligibility because of NCAA probation earned during Sutton’s era.
“Sad day,” coach John Calipari said after the loss to St. Peter’s. “And I’ll just say one thing. You have an eight-point lead with three minutes to go, you win the game. I’m disappointed for our fans, because I know they are here en masse, and they were shellshocked like we all were. So just disappointed.”
Thank goodness, former Kentucky guard Rex Chapman of CNN didn’t tell him to “rest in peace.” Calipari will be back. He does have two five-star prospects coming in — No. 1 shooting guard Cason Wallace of Richardson, Texas, and No. 2 small forward Chris Livingston of Oak Hill Academy, Virginia, plus however many LSU transfers he can attract.
Counting his last three years as Memphis’ coach from 2005-08, Calipari went to five Elite Eights and five Final Fours from 2006 through 2019 with a national championship in 2012 and national runner-up finishes in 2014 and ’18. That’s too much elite consistency not to return to it.
Speaking of consistency, Gonzaga is in its seventh straight Sweet 16 with two national runner-up finishes and four Elite Eight appearances under coach Mark Few. But if anyone can pull an upset on Gonzaga, other than Coach K, it would be Arkansas coach Eric Musselman, a defensive wizard since his days coaching in the NBA.
Arkansas, though, is 0-for-10 all-time against the No. 1 seed since seeding started in 1979. No program has lost more to the No. 1 seed. Musselman is a win away from his second straight Elite Eight at Arkansas, and look for him to be there and higher in the near future. Arkansas has the No. 2 class in the nation for 2022 behind only Duke with five signees, including the 6-5 No. 1 point guard Nick Smith of Sherwood, Arkansas and the 6-7 No. 7 small forward Jordan Walsh of Branson, Missouri.
Speaking of consistency, of the dubious kind, LSU just reached its sixth NCAA Tournament since 2006 under six coaches. Those were interim coach Kevin Nickelberry in 2022 (not retained), Will Wade in 2021 (fired in 2022), interim coach Tony Benford in 2019 (not retained), Johnny Jones in 2015 (fired in 2017), Trent Johnson in 2009 (left for TCU in 2012) and John Brady in 2006 (fired in 2008). Since Dale Brown took LSU to 10 straight NCAA Tournaments from 1984-93, only Brady has gone to back-to-back Big Dances — in 2005 and ’06.
New LSU coach Matt McMahon just took Murray State to its third NCAA Tournament out of a possible four years.
Best Quote of the NCAA Tournament So Far:
“I’m not worried about distractions, because we’ve been dealing with COVID for two years. That, I’m not worried about. The NCAA Tournament is every kid’s dream.” — Saint Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway after beating No. 7 seed Murray State, 70-60, on Saturday in Indianapolis to reach the Sweet 16. The Peacocks (21-11) play No. 3 seed Purdue (29-7) on Friday (7:09 p.m., CBS) in Philadelphia.
Best Moment of the NCAA Tournament So Far:
Michigan coach Juwan Howard embracing Tennessee guard Kennedy Chandler after Michigan’s 76-68 win on Saturday in Indianapolis. At first, Howard sort of halfway hugged Chandler because Howard’s son Jett and Chandler played basketball together as young kids. But when Chandler dropped his head into Howard’s chest bawling, Howard knew he needed more and gave him a full on embrace and held it.
And what a range of emotions for Howard, who was suspended five games just last month for striking Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft in the face during a more heated receiving line following a 77-63 loss on Feb. 20.
“I gave him (Kennedy) words of encouragement,” Howard said. “It showed his emotion, that he cares. As coaches, you appreciate that.”
So suddenly, March Madness can become March Sadness.
“It’s tough for me,” Chandler said. “I love him. He told me to keep my head up, and ‘You played your heart out.’ That’s what he told me.”
Sweet 16 Schedule (All times eastern)
No. 4 seed Arkansas (27-8) vs. No. 1 seed Gonzaga (28-3), 7:09 p.m., San Francisco, CBS
No. 11 seed Michigan (19-14) vs. No. 2 seed Villanova (28-7), 7:29 p.m., San Antonio, TBS
No. 3 seed Texas Tech (27-9) vs. No. 2 seed Duke (30-6), 9:39 p.m., San Francisco, CBS
No. 5 seed Houston (31-5) vs. No. 1 seed Arizona (33-3) 9:59 p.m., San Antonio, TBS
No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s (21-11) vs. No. 3 seed Purdue (29-7), 7:09 p.m., Philadelphia, CBS
No. 4 seed Providence (27-5) vs. No. 1 seed Kansas (30-6), 7:29 p.m., Chicago, TBS
No. 8 seed North Carolina (26-9) vs. No. 4 seed UCLA (27-7), 9:39 p.m., Philadelphia, CBS
No. 11 seed Iowa State (22-12) vs. No. 10 seed Miami (25-10), 9:59 p.m., Chicago, TBS