OMAHA, Neb. — The new faces and unexpected matchups for this late in March are elsewhere. What they have here in the Midwest Regional is the royal couple.
Duke and Kansas. Blue school colors, bluer blood.
The players sense the moment.
Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham: “Two great, historic programs and two Hall of Fame coaches. And it’s a pride thing.”
So do the coaches, who have seen carnage elsewhere, but not here. Here, it’s Kansas the No. 1 seed and Duke No. 2.
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski: “I think the tournament this year is incredibly interesting and so good for the sport because it shows that people can beat one another. But in certain regions, 1 and 2 end up the way the selection committee thought it might end up. So I really think the contrasts in each region are great for the sport.
“And I’m just glad that our region wasn’t the one that had the 9 and 11.”
“We know we’ve got our hands full. But we’d like to think that they have their hands full, too."
Put these two in the same game, and the pedigree did-you-knows stretch forever.
Did you know . . .
You have to go back 35 years to find an NCAA tournament with neither of them. Kansas has played in 29 consecutive tournaments. Duke in 23.
Two teams, 30 Final Fours, eight national championships, and 4,391 wins.
Only seven times in the past 31 years has the Elite Eight not had at least one of them. Together, they’ve been this far 45 times.
Duke and Kansas never met until 1985. They’ve played 11 games since, three times at the Final Four. Duke has won seven of them. The team Mike Krzyzewski beat for his first national championship was Kansas.
Duke had 18 head coaches in 75 years before Krzyzewski showed up.
Four of Duke’s top five scorers are freshmen.
Kansas’ two top scorers are seniors.
Did you know . . .
Krzyzewski has been around long enough to coach in 14 Elite Eight game. He’s won 12 of them.
Self has been around enough to coach in nine Elite Eight games. He’s lost seven of them. There are times he has seen his team trying too hard.
“I think that’s been the case a lot of times for us. You want something so bad, sometimes maybe you don’t give yourself the best chance. I don’t think that’ll be the case this year. This year is different. Even though we’re a 1 seed, every time you talked to somebody, it’s always, `What’s wrong with them?’ Nobody ever says what’s good with us. 'They’re too small, they don’t defensively rebound, they can’t defend their home court.'
“I think this team is really proud of their accomplishment. I think they feel like we’ve put ourselves in position where we don’t have to feel that pressure.”
More than one coach has said losing at this stage is the most painful, since the Final Four is close enough to see — especially if you’ve never been. Krzyzewski took care of that breaking-through issue 32 years ago, Self 10 years ago.
“For us in the coaching profession, the biggest bridge you can cross is the Final Four bridge,” Krzyzewski said. “No matter how many games you’ve won, if you haven’t gone there, it’s an empty feeling. And so when you get there, there’s happiness, but also relief that you get there. For me personally, we were able to cross it right away. So I didn’t go through the suffering.”
“What we’re doing is a very small part of his overall legacy,” Allen said. “I know Coach, he won’t mention that to us. At the end of the day, Coach just wants one win, and he wants to get his first Elite Eight win for this team, and that’s all he’s focused on.”’
“I’m not a rearview mirror guy. You cannot let those things enter the room,” Krzyzewski said. “Otherwise, you’re not going to be hungry. When you start thinking about those, you can rationalize, and rationalization is one of the things that stop people from continued excellence, because they live in the past. And then they stop adapting, and they stop getting hungry and they stop having the opportunity to do what we might be able to do.”
Did you know . . .
Not one Kansas starter is from the state of Kansas. Not one Duke starter is from the state of North Carolina.
The last time Kansas had an unsold seat at home was 2001, or 275 sellouts ago. The last time Duke had one was 1990, or 438 sellouts ago.
Kansas is 11-1 this season against teams who made the Sweet 16. Duke is 4-0.
Every Kansas senior class since 1987 has won at least 100 games.
Every Duke senior class but four since 1986 has been to the Final Four.
Both hallowed programs and coaches have had their March bruises. Kansas under Self has lost to Bucknell, Bradley and Northern Iowa in the NCAA tournament. Duke under Krzyzewski has lost to Mercer, Lehigh and Eastern Michigan.
Krzyzewski hasn’t lost a home non-conference game since 2000.
Self has won more Big 12 season titles (14) than he’s lost home games (13). In his last 20 years as coach, his teams have won 18 conference titles. They finished second the other two seasons.
Did you know . . .
Nobody outside the Big 12 seems to be able to work up much rancor toward Kansas.
But Duke-haters are legendary, coast-to-coast. Krzyzewski said it’s just part of the deal.
“You are going to have extreme emotions observing you in that spotlight . . . and you probably won’t have many in between. It’s a hell of a lot more interesting life to lead than mediocrity.”
“Duke hater? No, I wasn’t a hater,” he said. “I just disliked them.”
The level of dislike?
“It was pretty high.”
Now they’re in each other’s path again — two heavyweights who have avoided the upset flu long enough to get on the same court.
From the Duke corner, Marvin Bagley III: “Both teams are here for a reason.”
From the Kansas corner, Self: “They’ve got to play like there’s no what-ifs. Just let it go. If you play to try to protect something tomorrow, we’ll go home sad. And I think those guys understand that.”
This, is the main event.