Mike Krzyzewski won his first NCAA tournament game as Duke’s coach in 1985 and his 98th game on Friday night.
He was then an aspiring player with a hard-to-spell last name and is now a contender for the title of college basketball GOAT — no matter how long his senior season lasts. You’ll miss him when he’s gone. But if Duke’s comfortable 78-61 first-round win over Cal State-Fullerton is any indication, it won’t be any time soon.
The second-placed Blue Devils came out red hot, defending in the way Krzyzewski has been begging for weeks. They led by 10 at halftime, padded the cushion to 20 in the second half, and went home in double figures with all five starters.
And if it looks like the rest of this tournament is going well for Coach K after a rocky close to the regular season, then you’re not alone either.
Day 2 of the tournament saw three upsets, one fewer than Thursday, and nothing like tiny, 15th-seeded St. Peter’s toppling mighty Kentucky. Only four games were even close, with Michigan State holding on to their fingernails to beat Davidson 74-73 and Spartans coach Tom Izzo against Krzyzewski, his longtime nemesis and Hall of Famer sidekick, for the 16th time in the tournament in the second match hit rounds.
“It’s like the Hatfields and the McCoys,” Izzo said. “You were in the war for a day, but the respect and admiration will be there for a lifetime.”
Battles between dinosaurs with resumes as good as these two – Krzyzewski is 75; Izzo, 67 – becoming increasingly rare. None of today’s good younger coaches will stay at the same school for that long. Texas coach Chris Beard, a rising star in the industry, improved to 5-0 in first-round games as his No. 6 Longhorns delivered an expert 81-73 win over a tough Virginia Tech squad.
That sounds impressive until you remember that Coach K has spun that trick 33 times and made the Final Four a dozen times, winning it all after five of them.
“He did it. … He’s the role model,” Izzo added. “He is the role model that the rest of us must live up to.”
The excitement on Friday matched no wrestling match as seventh seeded Ohio State defeated No. 10 Loyola of Chicago 54-41. The Ramblers, everyone’s favorite underdog and a reliable class leader in recent years, were actually listed as slight favorites by FanDuel Sportsbook. But things went quite downhill after Sister Jean, Loyola’s 102-year-old chaplain, led the Ramblers to a pregame prayer.
“We knew we were going to have a rock fight and it was,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said afterwards.
Continuing the Goliath-beat-David theme, Purdue regained some respect for the Big Ten by crushing 14th seed Yale 78-56. Eighth-seeded Boilermakers relied on Jaden Ivy’s speed outside and owned the paint, planting the 7-foot-4 Zach Edey under the basket, where he scored 16 points and tacked nine rebounds in just 19 minutes of work.
Yale coach James Jones was impressed.
“Have you seen anyone his size in your life?” Jones said. “Except for Yao Ming, I have never seen anyone as tall as him. He’s the second tallest man I’ve ever seen.”
As for the big men, Jabari Smith was even more impressive, scoring 20 points, adding 14 rebounds and a thunderous dunk that spawned the first surefire poster of the tournament as second-placed Auburn swept away from Jacksonville State, 80-61 , relegated Weg to the Tigers’ 10th straight tournament opening win.
The Tigers looked like serious contenders from the start, and game in hand, Smith, a 6-10 power forward and likely NBA lottery pick, signaled his bad intentions starting at the Arc. He picked up speed and then headed straight for the rim with the Gamecocks’ 6-10 forward Brandon Huffman getting in his way. Smith paced and then threw the ball down with enough force to suck some air out of the arena.
“He never did that in practice,” laughed teammate KD Johnson. “It was the first time he showed me that he could get that high, it was crazy.”
The fact that the Notre Dame players still had legs at all can be considered their biggest surprise so far. The 11th-seeded Irishman needed double overtime to shake off Rutgers in a play-in game, then flew cross-country to beat No. 6 Alabama 78-64 in his second game in under 48 hours.
Cormac Ryan racked up a career-high 29 points, including seven 3-pointers, noting that frequent flyer points were only the second-best advantage the Irish had accumulated on the whirlwind tour.
“I think the fast travel actually helped us because we were still hungry. It was like we had just come off the pitch; put us back on, we’re ready,” he said.
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