Inside the Villanova-Duke matchup

By Bob Ryan
Globe Staff / March 26, 2009
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Villanova coach Jay Wright is always high on any list of well-dressed college basketball coaches. For that, and his general demeanor, hoop savant Tom Brennan calls him the "Young Frank McGuire." With affection, of course.

Villanova won the 1985 national championship in a memorable 66-64 conquest of mighty Georgetown, shooting 22 for 28 in the game and 9 for 10 in the second half in the last college game played without a shot clock. But Wright says that is of scant use to him when he recruits. "I made this mistake a couple of weeks ago," Wright explains. "I was referencing the national championship team, and just in general said, 'How old were you when we won it?' And they all looked at me and said, 'We weren't even born.' When you walk into our practice facility, there is a big screen where they play the song, 'One Shining Moment,' and they relive that run. And I hit the button every time I go in there, so everybody behind me looks at it. They see it every day." But the truth is these kids can barely remember back to Villanova's 2006 Elite Eight team that lost to Florida. "That final eight team, they don't really know," Wright says. "They know that Randy Foye and Kyle Lowery are in the NBA, but in recruiting it's really a short window they remember."

The official NCAA record book says Villanova's 1971 national championship runner-up achievement has been "vacated" due to Howard Porter's transgressions, but no one can erase the memory of Villanova's 92-89 double-overtime triumph over Western Kentucky or the Wildcats tough battle with UCLA in the title game.

Villanova appeared in the first NCAA Tournament in 1939, defeating Brown before losing to Ohio State. It was the first of 29 NCAA Tournament appearances.

Grad Jim Croce once said that going to Villanova "perfectly prepared him to live in the 13th century." Too bad he never met Wright. He'd at least have made him laugh. And think of the clothing tips.

The great Paul Arizin established the Villanova scoring record when he dropped 85 points on the Naval Air Material Center in 1949. It's likely to stand.


Basketball bible Blue Ribbon yearbook had this to say about Mike Krzyzewski in its 1984-85 edition: "Solid, bright, hard-working, and should be able to keep this program among the top of the ACC as long as he keeps getting good players." That was 698 wins and three national titles ago.

What Notre Dame is to college football, Duke is to college basketball. People pretty much love 'em or hate 'em. "We're used to people rooting against us," says junior Gerald Henderson. "In the ACC, it's pretty brutal." Junior Jon Scheyer agrees. "The last couple of years, if we're the second game [of an NCAA doubleheader], usually we'll have our fans rooting for us, but the two teams that follow or play before us probably root against us, and then other teams. It's sometimes like we have three teams cheering against us. We're used to it, and it's something that really doesn't faze us anymore."

More from that long-ago Blue Ribbon: "Recruits nationally and has players from eight states, the District of Columbia, plus Canada." This year's 14-man team has players from 12 states, plus Lithuania. There are two from New Jersey, but none from North Carolina, which is typical.

Coach K has no identifiable "system." He is never out there looking for some stylistic fit. He just wants basketball players, and he says it appears to him that Jay Wright is of a like disposition.

"I think we're similar in a lot of respects," says Krzyzewski. "I think the very first thing is that we don't have players who are positioned. We have basketball players - I don't think you can call [Villanova's Dante] Cunningham a center, but you can call him a really good player."

Duke has won it three times under Krzyzewski, but the Blue Devils have also lost four times in the national championship game. One was a blowout (UNLV in 1990), but in the other three Duke was right there. The Blue Devils were pained losers in 1986 (Louisville), 1994 (Arkansas), and 1999 (UConn).

More from the '84-85 Blue Ribbon: "Let it be known early on he was going to challenge Dean Smith and would not back down from the Carolina mystique."

"Krzyzewski openly fought with Smith from Day 1. He laid down the gauntlet, almost died, lived, and grew strong," said one ACC source.

If we skip the "almost died" part, couldn't the same now be said about Roy Williams vis-á-vis Krzyzewski?


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