Jamie Dixon respects Mike Krzyzewski, to say the least. He admires his amazing work as college basketball's winningest coach. But he won't be intimidated by Krzyzewski on the other bench tonight when Pitt plays Duke at throbbing Petersen Events Center. He won't even know Krzyzewski is in the building.
"I'll be paying more attention to his players," Dixon said.
It's a strategy that has worked well for Dixon over the years. He has more than held his own against the game's Hall of Fame coaches. He is 10-5 against Syracuse's Jim Boeheim. He was 8-7 against Connecticut's Jim Calhoun. He is 5-7 against Louisville's Rick Pitino, although he beat him three consecutive seasons in the Big East Conference tournament.
Dixon is 1-0 against Krzyzewski. Pitt beat Duke, 65-64, in overtime in December 2007 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Levance Fields won the game with a step-back 3-point shot in the final seconds. DeJuan Blair had 20 rebounds.
"I said back then that it was a great indicator of where our program was," Dixon said. "We want our school to be the same type of school as Duke. Not just in basketball, but academically."
More wins means more national exposure for a school. More exposure means more and better applicants.
"I think basketball definitely helps the academic side," Dixon said. "For the past 10 years, we've been right there with Duke in terms of wins."
Pitt has won 280 games since Dixon took over in 2003. Duke has won 310 in that same time.
Dixon tied North Carolina State's Everett Case Saturday for fourth place for most wins in his first 11 seasons when Pitt beat Maryland, 83-79. With 11 conference games, the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament remaining, Dixon has a chance to also pass Gonzaga's Mark Few (291) and Ohio State's Thad Matta (292) to move into second place behind North Carolina's Roy Williams (305) on the 11-season list.
"I like to think our coach is pretty legendary, too," Pitt point guard James Robinson said.
Certainly, Dixon is on his way.
The guess here is Krzyzewski respects and admires Dixon's work, as well.
"I don't think of it as me," Dixon said. "I think of it as having good players ...
"I look at it as me being thankful for the opportunity. My family loves it here. That means the most to me. I work for and with great people. I have great assistants. I'm thankful for the people around me."
Funny, Krzyzewski said the same thing Saturday after Duke crushed Florida State for his 900th win at Duke in 34 seasons. He became just the second coach with 900 wins at one school, joining Boeheim (939). The first 73 of Krzyzewski's record 973 wins came at Army.
"I thank Duke for keeping me," Krzyzewski said. "I've been blessed with being at one of the greatest schools in the world. Great schools don't necessarily always have great people in command. This school has ... We have a good thing going here."
The first thing Dixon mentioned when asked about Krzyzewski was his incomparable success at one school. "I also look at what he's done for USA basketball." Krzyzewski led the United States to gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and at the 2010 world championship. He will again coach the U.S. team at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Then, there are Krzyzewski's national championships at Duke.
Four of 'em.
Krzyzewski also took Duke to seven other Final Fours and has an 82-25 record in NCAA tournament games, the most wins by any coach.
You might have heard Dixon hasn't been nearly so successful in the NCAAs. He has taken Pitt to nine tournaments but hasn't made it to a Final Four. His NCAA tournament record is 11-9.
Pitt nearly made it to the Final Four in 2009, losing a fabulous game to Villanova, 78-76, in the Round of Eight. Pitt, under Dixon, has been upset a number of times in the NCAAs by lower seeds. It lost to No. 13 Bradley as a No. 5 seed in 2006. Most painfully, it lost to No. 8 Butler as a No. 1 in 2011. Dixon has never beaten a higher seed in the tournament.
You think you're critical of Dixon for coming up small in the postseason?
Know this: Dixon is pretty hard on himself, as well.
"I don't remember the wins. I only remember the losses," he said. "I can understand the disappointment. No one is more disappointed than we are when we lose.
"We haven't won a national championship, and we've got to get one. It's not about getting to the Final Four. It's about winning a national championship. That's something different. No one remembers who goes to the Final Four. Winning the national championship is the separator."
Maybe this will be the year.
Dixon believes that.
"We think we're as good as anybody."
"Coach Dixon wants it as bad as we do," Robinson said. "He's a winner. He does a really good job of developing his players and relating to his players. He's relentless in what he does. He never lets us take the easy road. He always wants us to get better on the court and in life."
Pitt takes an 18-2 record into a game tonight against Duke and is 6-1 in the ACC, tied for second place with Virginia behind Syracuse (6-0). Duke is right there at 5-2. The game tonight just might be the most-anticipated regular-season game in Pitt history.
Saturday, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Pitt is one of the better teams he has coached against in 26 years in the business. "I think they're a top-five team in the country."
Don't be surprised if Krzyzewski says the same thing after Pitt wins tonight.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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