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Once Again, Duke's the Team to Beat

November 15, 2001|Robyn Norwood

Duke announced Wednesday that Mike Krzyzewski has agreed to a lifetime contract.

That probably sounds like a lifetime sentence to everyone in pursuit.

"Some people say, 'Well, you can't beat Duke,"' Maryland Coach Gary Williams said recently, looking back at the Terrapins' loss to the Blue Devils in the Final Four.

"Well, nobody else can, either."

Another season is under way, and there is no suspense about the favorite.

Not even Sports Illustrated, with its yearning for the fresh story and charming tale, is bucking this one.

With the Oregon State-is-No.-1 football fiasco still fresh, this is no time for foolishness.

It's Duke.

Yawn if you will, but a season after winning the NCAA championship, the Blue Devils have the best team in college basketball again.

A season after Shane Battier won the Wooden Award, the Blue Devils have the best player again, Jason Williams.

His backcourt partner, Chris Duhon, sometimes seems almost as good.

Yes, Illinois, Kentucky and UCLA are intriguing.

But they're all chasing Duke and its depth. No team is more likely to cut down the nets April 1 in Atlanta.

Not all is in its accustomed place as this season begins, however.

Bob Knight is in Lubbock, Texas, energized for a task big as West Texas--rebuilding a Texas Tech team that doesn't have much talent.

Losing all those games might be harder on Knight than trying not to lose his temper.

Rick Pitino is back in Kentucky--only his address is Louisville.

On Dec. 29, he'll be the visiting coach at Rupp Arena.

A month later, Pitino and John Calipari--who met in the 1996 Final Four as the coaches at Kentucky and Massachusetts and in the NBA as coaches of the Celtics and Nets--will face off as coaches of the Cardinals and the Memphis Tigers on Jan. 30.

But back to Duke.

At 54, Krzyzewski agreed to a contract to keep him with the Blue Devils through at least 2011, adding a title as special assistant to the president that indicates he plans to keep working for the university after he retires as basketball coach.

If he coaches 10 more years, the number of victories he could add to the 606 he already has is staggering. (Dean Smith's record is 879.)

Within sight already: John Wooden's record of 12 Final Fours (Krzyzewski has nine) and Smith's record of 65 NCAA tournament victories (Krzyzewski has 56.)

Krzyzewski didn't sound like the retiring sort Wednesday.

"I feel like I can do this for a while," he said.

Here's a glance at the season ahead:

Player You'll Know by Draft Day: Western Kentucky's Chris Marcus, a 7-foot-1, 285-pound center, figures to complete his rise from Wal-Mart employee to NBA lottery pick.

Little-Known Team to Love: St. Joseph's nearly brought down Stanford in the NCAA tournament, and the Hawks still have Marvin O'Connor, the high-scoring guard whose game is reminiscent of Latrell Sprewell.

The thing the Hawks are most likely to lose is their obscurity: They're already ranked No. 10.

Best Coach Whose Name Doesn't Start With K: Lute Olson's sweep of Maryland and Florida last week with one returning starter from Arizona's Final Four team is only one more reason he belongs in the hall of fame. Cue that top 25 ranking, please.

Best in the West: Stanford guard Casey Jacobsen. The only returning starter, he doesn't expect any complaints from Mike Montgomery about his vaguely punkish blond streaked hair. "As long as I put the ball in the hole, I think Coach Montgomery is going to be OK--as long as I don't get a tattoo."

Most Hyped Freshman: Dajuan Wagner. The highlights were spectacular, but Milt Wagner's son missed 11 of 17 shots in his 18-point debut for Memphis. Still, he's extraordinarily talented and confident--and figures to play no more than two seasons, maybe only one.

Freshman With the Biggest Shoes to Fill: Cedric Bozeman. He takes over the point at UCLA after the departure of Earl Watson. It's a dramatic drop-off in experience, but Steve Lavin is taken with Bozeman's savvy for the game.

Best Williams Not Named Jason: Illinois point guard Frank Williams. Like Duke's point guard, the Illini junior already announced he'll jump to the NBA after the season.

Fans Least Likely to Leave the Couch: USC. The Trojans, fresh off their first trip to the Final Eight, were greeted by a crowd of 3,136 for their season opener against Wyoming.

What Exhibition Season Taught Us: North Carolina might be in trouble. The EA All-Stars beat the Tar Heels, 107-76--and lost to Duke, 129-94.

Where Have You Gone, Teddy Dupay: Kicked off the Florida team because of allegations linking him to gambling, Dupay was touring with the Nike Elite exhibition team, playing against college teams while hoping to land with an overseas team.

Also Missing: Tito Maddox. Fresno State would have been a much-talked about team if Maddox hadn't ruined his eligibility by accepting gifts from an agent. But center Melvin Ely has a chance to make an impression against USC tonight.

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