Pity Mike Krzyzewski's problem.
His Duke team could be 30 points better than last year and still not be improved enough to beat UNLV.Consider it this way: 30 points is more than a third better. That's a third better than not just any team, but last year's national runner-up. And that's a third better
against not just any team, but the top-ranked and undefeated defending national champion, the same team that beat Duke last season in the most lopsided championship game ever.
The numbers, in other words, are all on the side of Las Vegas in the second game of today's semifinal doubleheader.
Poor Coach K? Not to hear him tell it.
"I believe we're better than last year," Krzyzewski said Friday. "I hope we're closer than 30 points. We even improved this week. I like this team a lot. We'll fight hard and play together."
Krzyzewski is not only upbeat but correct in saying this 30-7 Duke team is better than the 29-9 team which lost 103-73 last April in Denver.
However, the Runnin' Rebels (34-0), who are on a 45-game winning streak, have done some improving themselves along the way to their shot at college basketball immortality.
The last team to win consecutive titles was UCLA in 1973 and the last team to go undefeated was Indiana in 1976.
UNLV's numbers might boggle NASA, not to mention the NCAA:
- The Runnin' Rebels have led by at least 15 points in every game this season.
- They have trailed at halftime only once and they started that second half against Arkansas with a devastating run, one of the 54 they have this season of 9-0 or better.
- Their average victory margin was 27.6, 2.7 shy of UCLA's record in 1972-73.
- They have trailed by 10 points once this season (16-6 to Fresno State in the Big West championship game) and that lasted for 10 seconds.
- They have trailed in the second half this season for a total of 1 minute, 21 seconds.
"As a coach it's nice to have 15-, 20-point leads in the last two minutes," Jerry Tarkanian said. "I haven't had to bite on my towel as much, and that's because this is a special team. We haven't had a bad game, maybe a couple of bad halves. Heck, we've had only one or two bad practices all season."
Tarkanian doesn't believe that was the real Duke which his team handled with ease 12 months ago.
"Duke's a great basketball team and I thought that last year," he said. "That team beat Arkansas quite handily and people forget about that. They look at the 30-point victory and say Duke was outclassed, but that's not true at all. If we played them 24 hours later, it would have been competitive."
How about 52 weeks later?
"Losing by 30 points is only an edge if you think of it that way," Duke center Christian Laettner said. "If the players on this team look back at last year's game and get mad and get upset that we got killed by 30 points and use it as a motivation, then it might be an advantage. It could be an advantage for them to say we killed them by 30 last time. There really are no advantages off the court."
UNLV's biggest on-court advantage is the matchup problems it presents for Duke.
All-American forwards Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon are both quick, physical players who can play inside and out. Center George Ackles has added a short jumper to his strong inside play, and guards Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt, the 3-point specialist, force the action with defensive pressure.
"We've seen a lot of double-teaming on Larry all season," Tarkanian said of Johnson, who leads the Rebels at 23 points per game. "We don't have a real weakness and that makes it hard to throw a gimmick defense at us, and none has worked against us to this point."
Krzyzewski isn't known for any gimmick defense, just solid man-to-man. And he knows what problems his Blue Devils face.