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Make-or-miss game: Coach K rolls dice, somehow wins chess match with UVA’s Tony Bennett

coach k dukeYou want to give Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, he of the national championships and Olympic gold medals, credit for winning the chess match with UVA’s Tony Bennett.

Truth is, the game-winning move by Coach K, mixing in zone with his to that point ineffective man-to-man in the last 9:34, was a roll of the dice that worked only because Virginia couldn’t hit open jumpers down the stretch.

Before you write about me mixing metaphors: it’s intentional.

I’m saying Krzyzewski won the chess match by rolling the dice.

I’m not talking four-dimensional anything.

He was out of options, took a stab, it worked out.

“We got a few good looks. We really did. A couple maybe not so great,” Bennett said, by way of trying to make sense of what had happened.

Actually, the looks down the stretch were all pretty good. UVA, a 40.9 percent three-point shooting team coming in, was 2-of-10 from the three-point line in the first 30 minutes, which was what prompted Krzyzewski to go with the 2-3 zone as an alternative when the man wasn’t working.

The ‘Hoos were 24-of-38, 63.1 percent, from the floor in the game’s first 30 minutes, and 9-of-12 in the second half, spreading the floor and taking the Blue Devils off the dribble.

The move by Krzyzewski to go zone felt to me like the move by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim in the Elite Eight game in 2016, when he went to a full-court press down 15, and acknowledged afterward that it was a shot in the dark that shouldn’t have worked, and did.

Coach K going zone was bound to work better than the Duke man-to-man. The Duke man defense was getting eviscerated, though that wasn’t what Krzyzewski was talking about after the game.

“Our defense was excellent,” Coach K said, which, no, it wasn’t.

Reporters asked Krzyzewski about his team switching on screens, which was the approach in the man, and, no, emphatically, didn’t work.

Virginia got into the lane basically at will: 15-of-16 on shots at the rim, 21-of-28 on shots in the lane.

Surprise to me, and I wasn’t there for the postgame, but nobody asked Krzyzewski about going zone, and then switching from zone to man, and then man back to zone.

The wrinkle took Virginia out of the rhythm that it had been in for the first 30 minutes. After putting up 10 three-point shots in the first 30 minutes of action, the ‘Hoos shot from long-range seven times in the last 10.

Roughly one of every four shots from the field in the first 30 minutes were threes; nearly half, seven of 15, of the Cavaliers’ shots in the final 10 minutes were threes.

Again, you’d like to give Duke credit for making Virginia miss those shots, with their length – there was nobody on the floor smaller than 6’6”.

But it wasn’t closeouts causing misses. The shots were open shots; in a make-or-miss game, Virginia just missed those open shots.

Make even one more, and the outcome is different.

The credit due to Krzyzewski is, if he keeps doing the same thing he did the first 30 minutes, and Virginia keeps dribble-driving his team into oblivion, the outcome is almost assuredly different.

He decided to make Virginia, a good jump-shooting team, into a jump-shooting team, because that was the only way he had a chance of winning.

Same as Boeheim pressed a team that had squashed a press team in Iowa State in the Sweet Sixteen two nights earlier, and it shouldn’t have worked, but it did.

Sometimes you roll the dice and somehow win a chess match.

Column by Chris Graham