Coach K’s Decision To Abandon Non-Conference Schedule Isn’t About Mental Health

Duke head basketball Mike Krzyzewski has a real pension for whining out loud when things don’t go as he thinks they should. On Thursday, he decided to cancel the rest of the Blue Devils non-conference schedule for the 2020-21 season.

His reasoning seems fair as he cited the COVID-19 pandemic and its potentially negative effect on the student-athletes from a physical standpoint and mental aspect as well.

He goes onto talk about the fact that the season was stopped with just a few positive tests in March, but now a new season is being played after over 200,000 Americans have lost their lives, and the mortality rate currently reaching new heights daily.

He also stated how players wouldn’t be able to return home for Christmas amongst other things. And how that plays a part in their mental health.

So following two bad losses to teams you’re just not better than this season Coach K cancels all non-conference games but is still willing to play the conference games?

That doesn’t even make any sense. Coronavirus or not.

Alabama head coach Nate Oats was asked about this situation at a press conference and he responded like this:

Oats first said in his personal opinion “basketball 100% should be played.”

He then posed this soundbite for good measure:

“Do you think if Coach K had lost the two non-conference games at home he’d still be saying we shouldn’t be playing?” 

In finishing, Oates says, “I think we’d have a whole lot more problems if we weren’t playing.”

But this is Duke, a place where the disdain for their success is only rivaled by that of the “Evil Empire”(Yankees), “Supposed America’s Team” (Cowboys) and the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady-led Patriots, whom many billed as “They Evil Empire Up North”.

So anything they do will be questioned.

The wrath of dislike Duke’s earned over the years can be attributed to a few things.

  1. They have a propensity for getting elite scholar-athletes to attend the private university nestled in Durham NC.

2. They’re led by a former point guard from Army who played under Robert Montgomery Knight and tends to smirk and keep a smug look on his face as he badgers referees and recruits and coaches the elite blue chippers in the sport. 

3. How bout the “Cameron Crazies” and their creative but oftentimes “Over The Top” chants for visiting fans at Cameron Indoor Stadium?

In 1999, I was there and happened to hear them chant  “SAT” to former UMD star Steve Francis as his scores on the college entrance exam were in question. Duke’s villainous reputation has everything to do with players like Christian Laettner who no one liked. And Bobby Hurley the floor General who many feel was just flat overrated  and always looked at as being better than he actually was.

4. The love they traditionally get from hoops analysts is almost sickening.

5. But in the end, the real disdain comes from them “WINNING and “WINNING” big and often. As a program under Coach K they’ve won 5 national championships, been national runner-up 4 times, played in 12 final fours, along with 26 sweet sixteen appearances.

Mike Krzyzewski’s teams have been to the NCAA tournament 36 times in his 40 years and will probably make it 37 times in 41 years this season — if there is a return to NCAA Tourney play. They’ve also taken home 16 ACC conference tournament titles under Coach K.

Duke doesn’t lose many games anywhere but especially not at Cameron Indoor Stadium where fans pack that place nightly to really harass and taunt the visitors with fierce vitriol from the time they begin to warmup.

But this season, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are no fans and that’s a huge advantage that Duke has enjoyed over the years on “Tobacco Road” as those fans are so close to the floor that the other team feels like it’s playing 5 on 9,005.

Even the really good teams who go into that atmosphere usually wilt under the pressure of playing in that hot, boisterous and very unique gym. Couple that with Coach K working the refs after he throws his suit jacket down, as a sign of throwing down the gauntlet of sorts, and boy that place becomes even more insane.

Thus far in the 2020-21 season this Duke team although talented is nowhere near as star-laden as teams of the past. A far cry from two seasons ago when one-and-doners Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish electrified college hoops before being drafted in the Top 10 of the 2019 NBA Draft.

They’ve been beaten pretty thoroughly at Cameron Indoor Stadium by two better and higher-ranked teams from the Big 10 in Michigan State and Illinois.

Nothing to hang your head about but this is Duke, and K doesn’t lose at home and especially not to non-conference opponents no matter who they are. He’s owned the matchup with Tom Izzo and the Spartans over the years, but the last two have gone to the guy from East Lansing. In their previous matchup in the 2019 East Regional Final (Elite 8), Izzo beat Duke’s Big Three. 

Villanova head coach Jay Wright was asked some questions about the mental health of players and he said he could only speak for his guys. They began their season in the “Mohegan Sun” bubble of sorts playing four games in eight days, and he believes that style was a blessing in disguise for the teams involved as they were able to have a set routine while avoiding postponements and cancellations due to players or coaches testing positive for the virus.

The fact that Coach K is the most influential and best coach in the business makes people tend to listen when he speaks. Especially when he has a valid point concerning the health and safety of student-athletes during COVID.

But timing is everything and to come with this, following losses in your team’s two early season marquee matchups at home, makes the decision seem self-serving. To many, it just looks like Coach K is whining and complaining because things aren’t where he’d like them to be right now.

He’s trying to sneak out of the back door early rather than later. You never take mental health situations lightly but these are multi-million dollar programs with resources at every turn to help student athletes with those type of things.

I could be wrong, but again, when you consider the disdain and pure dislike for this program I for one am not the only one thinking this.