Mike Krzyzewski has opted to focus on the positives with the media this season. Credit: ROBERT WILLETT
Every Saturday, the News & Observer takes a look around the ACC. That also provides an opportunity to check in with the Blue Devils and look for any emerging trends.
After capping off a perfect home record with a sometimes-ugly 85-57 win over last-place Virginia Tech, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked if he was satisfied with his team as postseason play awaits.
“We’re ecstatic about it,” Krzyzewski said.
Krzyzewski’s answer continued a season-long theme of not publicly criticizing his team, with a few exceptions* and the embarrassment at Miami notwithstanding, when even he couldn’t find any positives. After losses at N.C. State and Maryland, Krzyzewski said he was proud of the way his team competed. At Virginia, he lavishly praised Joe Harris, and even though Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston combined for two rebounds, four points and eight fouls, Krzyzewski said, “Those kids have done a good job for us, but tonight they didn’t play very well.” He was similarly encouraging with Mason Plumlee after he posted just three rebounds and four points at Maryland.
“He’s been great. Obviously he was not good tonight. We’ll keep him,” Krzyzewski said. “We believe in him.”
Krzyzewski has been wildly successful in part because he knows how to motivate his teams. Clearly, this isn’t one that responds well to harsh public criticism, so Krzyzewski has avoided that. It’s hard to argue with the results.
*One of those exceptions came Friday, when Krzyzewski was asked about Rasheed Sulaimon. The freshman has failed to score in double figures in his last three games and was benched for most of the second half against Virginia Tech.
"He’s got to react a little bit differently," Krzyzewski said. "More energy, better defense, rebounding. If you’re ranking your defensive players, he’s going to have the third-worst defender on the perimeter. It doesn’t mean the guy’s bad, but you’re not getting someone’s best shot. Seth is getting that, and you have to put someone on the ball who is really good. So how do you take advantage of that? You go to the boards more, you drive more."
Krzyzewski did acknowledge Sulaimon's slump in January, saying he hadn't played well since Christmas. Other than those two instances, though, there hasn't been much in the way of direct criticism.