NEWPORT NEWS, VA. — Mike Krzyzewski barely could speak. Post-nasal drip, he explained, blaming the condition on his sizable schnoz.
West Point grad that he is, Krzyzewski soldiered on, meeting with reporters at the ACC's annual Operation Basketball. Curious thing was, the first three questions asked had nothing to do with Krzyzewski's Duke team.
Will North Carolina's hiring of Roy Williams as coach energize the Duke-Carolina rivalry?
How would you characterize your relationship with Roy?
Will the conference benefit from Roy re-establishing Carolina's national prominence?
Yes, Sunday was virtually all Roy all the time until the polls opened. When reporters voted on the ACC's order of finish, 53 of 55 picked Duke first.
With each of its 10 scholarship players capable of major minutes, Duke should not only win the ACC, but also contend for the national championship.
"That's always our goal," Krzyzewski said, "and I thought we did that last year."
Sort of. Duke finished two games behind Wake Forest in the regular season, won the conference tournament for the fifth consecutive season and advanced to the NCAA West Regional semifinals. But the Blue Devils were one of only four ACC teams to qualify for the NCAAs, and their loss to Kansas University in the West semis left the ACC without a regional finalist for the first time since 1979.
This season ACC teams return 33 starters, second only to the 35 who returned in 2001. Not coincidentally, 2001 was among the best seasons in conference history with six teams in the NCAAs, Duke and Maryland in the Final Four, and Duke winning it all.
Such postseason riches were standard fare along Tobacco Road from 1985-98, when at least five ACC teams qualified for the NCAAs every year except 1995. But in the last five years, with the exception of 2001, the NCAA Tournament selection committee has chosen only three or four ACC teams.
Krzyzewski, Virginia coach Pete Gillen and Maryland coach Gary Williams suspect a backlash from rival conferences and selection committee members envious of the ACC's success. The less partisan among us suspect the ACC, its coaching ranks never more unstable, simply wasn't as good.
Sure, the Tar Heels have failed to qualify for the past two NCAA Tournaments, and yes, a player revolt last season cost coach Matt Doherty his job. But Carolina did win the Preseason NIT, defeating Kansas University along the way.
"They were world-beaters that weekend," Roy Williams said, "truly one of the top five teams in the country."
All fans expect now is that caliber of performance every game, no matter that the Tar Heels have no viable backups at center and point guard.
"Ol' Roy's not that good," Williams said in his best aw-shucks tone. "But the fact of the matter is, those expectations are out there."
Out there for Roy, Coach K and the rest of the ACC.