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A Tale of Two Coach Ks in Houston

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The West's Coach K, Larry Krystkowiak, and his Runnin' Utes will meet the East's Coach K, Mike Kryzewski in the Sweet Sixteen in Houston, Texas.

It's been a local joke that Larry Krystkowiak is the "other" Coach K. Everyone knows who the original is, Duke head coach Mike Kryzewski. On Friday at 7:45 p.m. MT, the West's Coach K takes on the East's Coach K, as Utah (26-8) meets Duke (31-4) in the Sweet Sixteen in Houston, Texas.

The matchup with Duke represents a quantum leap in competition. It's not merely a four versus a one or a Sweet Sixteen team. This is Duke. Against Stephen F. Austin, Utah had superior size and talent to the lower conference team. The Utes won't have either advantage against Duke, with McDonald's All-Americans littering the roster. Against Georgetown, as good as they are and as solid as their tradition and league, Utah had the greater talent, superior depth, the only All-American on the floor, and the only two NBA first rounders. Once again, the Utes won't have that over the Blue Devils, with Jahil Okafor getting far more press than Delon Wright or Jakob Poeltl combined. It's fair to say that as good as the coaches of SFA and Georgetown are, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak and his staff are better. That advantage won't be present against a legendary coach in Duke's Mike Kryzewski.

The Duke numbers under Kryzewski are staggering:

  • Four National Championships (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010)
  • Four gold medals as head coach of USA Men's National Team
  • Over 1,000 career wins (most in NCAA history)
  • 910 victories at Duke, including 417 ACC wins
  • 82 NCAA Tournament victories (first all-time)
  • 12 National Coach of the Year honors (eight seasons)
  • Seven National Players of the Year (nine honors)
  • Six National Defensive Players of the Year (nine honors)
  • 31 NCAA Tournament bids
  • 28 All-America selections (42 honors)
  • 11 Final Four appearances (T-2nd all-time)
  • 12 ACC regular season championships
  • 13 ACC Tournament championships
  • 526 weeks ranked among the nation's top 25 teams
  • 460 weeks ranked among the nation's top 10 teams
  • 109 weeks ranked No. 1 in the country
  • 49 NBA Draft selections, including 28 in the first round
  • 18 NBA Lottery picks
  • 10 Consecutive Top 10 AP Poll finishes (1997-2006)
But Utah's Coach K has some credentials of his own:
  • Three NCAA Tournament bids as head coach of both Montana and Utah
  • Three NCAA Tournament wins
  • One Sweet Sixteen
  • Two All Pac-12 first team selections (Delon Wright)
  • One All Pac-12 second team selection (Brandon Taylor)
OK... so it's comparing apples to oranges, but Krystkowiak hasn't been with Utah as long as Duke's Kryzewski. Utah fans hope he will be, of course. But that sentiment wasn't always the case, as Krystkowiak struggled through his first couple of seasons. In the midst of a Sweet Sixteen run, fans forget that the now lauded coach was once the villain after his first season (6-25), the worst season in over 100 years of Runnin' Utes basketball. Utes fans were calling for the man's head after just one year on the job. Even Dave Fox of KUTV Talkin' Sports agreed that had Krystkowiak not improved each season by leaps and bounds, he might not have lasted until 2014 to make this run in 2015. However, Utah's Coach K followed up 6-25 with 15-18, +9 wins improvement. The third season was another leap in progress, 21-12, 20 wins, an berth in the NIT, and +6 wins improvement, +15 over the first season. But after a first-round road flameout at St. Mary's, a perceived inferior program, some of the boo birds again came out. Crickets right now, and rightfully so.

Over the course of four season, Krystkowiak has proven to be a wizard on the recruiting front. With a 6-25 season under his belt, not exactly the record that speaks to high-level recruits, the Utes head man secured a commitment from the top prospect in the state of Utah, forward Jordan Loveridge, as well as brought in diamonds-in-the-rough like point guard Brandon Taylor (now a starter) and guard/forward Dakarai Tucker (a primary rotation player) from California, and Dallin Bachynski, a transfer from Southern Utah. In the following recruiting classes, Krystko brought in guard Delon Wright (two-time All Pac-12), promising 6-6 wing Kenneth Ogbe from Germany, four-star 6-9 forward Kyle Kuzma from Michigan, and the departed Princeton Onwas. In the last class, the Utah staff brought in players from far and wide, including local top prospect Brekkott Chapman, Jakob Poeltl from Austria, guard Eris Winder from Nevada, and point guard Isaiah Wright, two-time Gatorade Player of the Year from Idaho. With the talent amassed so far, as well as what could be gained from this Sweet Sixteen, Utah is positioned well for the Pac-12 regular season, postseason, and the foreseeable future.

Free Throws:


ESPN's Sweet Sixteen Strengths and Weaknesses:

ESPN.com has listed the strengths and weaknesses of every team remaining in the NCAA Tournament. They note Delon Wright as a strength over Duke's smaller guards. "He can either take them in the post or simply shoot over them." This shows a fundamental lack of understand of Utah's personnel. Delon Wright doesn't post smaller guards, and more's the pity. He should, but he doesn't. Against Stephen F. Austin in the Round of 64, Wright allowed a 5-11 guard to push him out on the perimeter, rather than posting him up and just abusing the smaller player. Wright also isn't a great outside shooter, so that advantage is negated as well. DukeBasketballReport.com tells us that the way to take advantage of Duke's below average defense is to drive, which is something Wright does very well.

20-20 Hindsight:

The "Mother Ship" (as Dan Patrick likes to call ESPN) also did an article re-seeding the NCAA Tournament based upon Sweet Sixteen results. With the Runnin' Utes facing Duke in the Sweet Sixtten, Utah elevated from a five-seed to a three-seed in the hind-sight article. (Wonder where they'd be seeded if they beat Duke, a one-seed on both Selection Sunday and in the minds of ESPN.com writers.)