College basketball is back in all its upset-heavy glory. Opening night saw No. 17 Ohio State coming THIS close to dropping one to Akron, Navy beating No. 25 Virginia out of nowhere, and a fun Top-10 matchup between No. 10 Kentucky and No. 9 Duke kicking off the biggest story of this season:
The Coach Krzyzewski-palooza Farewell Tour Extravaganza On Wheels.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski announced earlier this year that the 2021-22 season will be his last with the Blue Devils, after coaching the team to five NCAA championships and 15 ACC championships. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say he’s the best-known, currently-active figure in the college basketball world, and he’ll be treated as such as the NCAA and Duke prepare to say goodbye with what is shaping up to be a season-long tribute to his contributions to the sport. If all goes according to plan, he’ll end up on the sidelines in New Orleans in March. The college basketball gods are a fickle bunch with an excellent sense of humor, though, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
Freshmen Trevor Keels and Paolo Banchero were the stars of the court last night, beacons of hope following a disastrous 13-11 season that left the Blue Devils spectating the Big Dance from their couches — not exactly their usual spot, to say the least. But of course, they weren’t, nor will they be, the main story of the evening, despite Banchero being projected as a No. 1 NBA Draft pick for 2022.
No, the man of the hour was presented with a plaque honoring his accomplishments at center court in Madison Square Garden before Duke tipped off their Champions Classic with a convincing win over John Calipari’s Wildcats. At halftime in Madison Square Garden, the screens lit up with the faces of legendary coaches including Calipari and Tom Izzo discussing Krzyzewski’s impact.
The spotlight will undoubtedly rest on Duke this year, with the narrative centered around the main character on his final attempt at finding that ever-elusive March glory. John Wooden was able to go out on a championship, but he also didn’t announce to his UCLA team that he was retiring until they were heading toward the finals. One wonders whether the last-ride mania and pressure for a storybook ending will affect this team’s performance going forward. Coach K goes out a legend of the sport either way (as will be shoved in our faces during just about every Duke game aired on television this season), but the concept of a farewell tour with such a precarious ending, especially after the Blue Devils’ performance last year, seems like it could, just possibly, be fit for disaster.
Assistant coach Jon Scheyer, who Coach K anointed as his successor to reign over the kingdom of Duke basketball, has already taken over recruiting responsibilities for the team. While the 75-year-old Krzyzewski has attempted to keep media coverage of the team focused away from him, it will be near impossible, as his name has become synonymous with the success of Blue Devils basketball. It’s the beginning of an end of an era here, and if they can keep playing like they did last night, this squad just might be able to send Coach K out with six.
Meanwhile, the fun never stops in college hoops. Several other Top 25 teams are still playing each other this week. On Friday, we’ll get another Top-10 matchup between No. 4 Villanova and No. 2 UCLA, and on Saturday, No. 1 Gonzaga faces No. 5 Texas. We’re off to the races.