Duke Basketball Blue Devils: Top 10 NCAA Tournament Runs of All Time
Duke has been one of the most storied programs in college basketball over the past 30 years. Some of the most revered names in the sport have called Durham home—Johnny Dawkins, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Jason Williams, Shane Battier and J.J. Redick.
Mike Krzyzewski has fearlessly led the Blue Devils to 28 NCAA appearances—including four national championships—and was a 2001 inductee to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. His four championships are good for second in all-time honors and are the most of any active coach.
Here is a look back at the 10 most memorable NCAA Tournament runs in the history of the Duke program.
10: 1993-94, NCAA Finalist
We kick off this list with the 1993-94 NCAA Finalists. This season was particularly memorable because it was the last remnants of the back-to-back championship teams and was led by Grant Hill.
Hill had one of the most dominant seasons in Duke history, averaging 17.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game en route to ACC Player of the Year honors.
As soon as the tournament started, the Duke style of team basketball took over. Every starter scored in double digits at least once on their run to the Championship, while all five starters scored in double figures in the National Championship.
9: 2003-04, Final Four
Next up is the 2003-04 Final Four team. This was one of the first real youth-movement teams for Coach K as it was led by a sophomore (J.J. Redick) and a freshman (Luol Deng).
Deng and Redick led the team in scoring, but the Blue Devils had five players who averaged at least 10 points per game, once again showcasing their team game.
After breezing through the first few rounds, the Blue Devils ran into a tough Xavier team that held Duke to just 38.9 percent shooting from the field. Trailing 30-28 at halftime, Deng gave a passionate halftime speech that motivated the Blue Devils to push past Xavier.
Duke then ran into UConn and Emeka Okafor. Leading by eight with just under three minutes to play, UConn exploded for 12 straight points to take a 79-75 lead.
While UConn would go on to win the national title, the loss still stung. But we will always have Deng's speech and impassioned Elite Eight performance.
8: 1999-2000, Sweet 16
The 1990-2000 Sweet 16 team will always be remembered as the team that created the '00-01 champions. Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy and Jason Williams were all freshmen while Shane Battier was a junior.
The experience gained, along with the sting of an early exit, provided the motivation for the next year. Despite having five players in double digits—led by Battier's 20 points—Duke fell to a very talented and underrated Florida team.
It was the bench play of Florida that won that game; they outscored the Duke bench 27-6.
The Blue Devils only lost Chris Carrawell, meaning they would return 12 players from this team that finished 29-5.
7: 1988-89, Final Four
Danny Ferry's illustrious Duke career came to an end in the 1988-89 Final Four. It also gave a certain freshman class a taste of the pinnacle of college basketball.
Ferry was the unquestioned leader of this team, averaging 22.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, while shooting an incredible 52.2 percent from the field. Ferry was named USBWA Player of Year.
Christian Laettner was a freshman on this team as well, beginning a streak of four straight years in which he would play on the final weekend of the season.
Duke fell to Seton Hall in the Final Four despite 34 points and 10 rebounds from Ferry. Ferry's individual effort in the tournament—combined with the beginning of the Laettner era—is what makes this run so memorable.
6: 1998-99, NCAA Finalist
One of the most talented teams Coach K had, the 1998-99 team went an impressive 32-1 during the regular season behind talented sophomore big-man Elton Brand. Brand averaged 17.7 points and 9.8 rebounds en route to winning every Player of the Year award.
Shane Battier, Trajan Langdon, Corey Maggette, Chris Carrawell and William Avery all averaged at least nine points on the season as Duke ran over everyone en route to the National Championship game.
It was in this game that UConn staked their claim as a Blue Devil-killer. Led by Richard Hamilton, the Huskies frustrated the Duke offense all game and held Duke to just 41 percent shooting.
Langdon did most of the damage for the Blue Devils, scoring 25 points while making 5-of-10 from three point range. However—with time for one last shot—Langdon lost his handle, and the Huskies prevailed 77-74.
The loss snapped a 32-game winning streak for the Devils, who finished the season 37-2. That record still stands as the best record in team history.
5: 1989-90, NCAA Finalist
The second of four straight Final Four appearances by Duke, the Blue Devils and Christian Laettner got one step closer to winning the program's first national title. Laettner and freshman Bobby Hurley led the Blue Devils to a 24-8 record and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
After getting through the first three rounds, Duke ran into UConn and Chris Smith. The Blue Devils held Smith to 25 percent shooting, but John Gwynn and Nadav Henefeld picked up his slack and forced Duke to overtime.
In what seemed to be a bit of foreshadowing, Laettner buried a 14-foot jumper as time expired to lift Duke into the Final Four.
After knocking off Arkansas, Duke ran into the Runnin' Rebels of UNLV. Led by Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson and Anderson Hunt, UNLV ran all over Duke en route to a 103-73 win.
This would be the last NCAA Tournament game Laettner and Hurley would ever lose.
4: 2009-10, National Champions
The 2009-10 National Champions were a team led by three players who would have been the best player on any other team in the country. The three-headed monster of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith propelled Duke to their fourth national championship in program history.
After making it to the Final Four relatively untested, Duke ran into a very talented and upset-minded West Virginia team. Led by Da'Sean Butler, the Mountaineers had made a magical run through the Big East tournament and were poised to do the same in the NCAA.
However, Butler went down with a horrible knee injury with 9:03 remaining in the game and the Mountaineers trailing by 15. West Virginia could not overcome the loss, and Duke moved on to face Butler in the national title game.
In one of the lowest scoring games of the season, Butler and Duke slugged it out for 40 minutes with Duke emerging victorious 61-59. All the stars showed up as Smith, Singler and Scheyer all scored in double digits for Duke while Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward did the same for Butler.
This game was not without drama, however. Hayward's last-second half-court heave hit the corner of the square and rimmed out as time expired. An inch in any other direction and this run would have been higher on the list.
This team will always be remembered for the balance with which they played and the unselfishness and teamwork of the three star players.
3: 2000-01, National Champions
The 2000-01 National Champions are certainly in the running for best Duke teams of all time. Led by all-time greats Jason Williams and Shane Battier, the 2000-01 team let the sting of the 1999-00 Sweet 16 loss propel them to a 29-4 regular season record and a national title.
The Blue Devils finished the season with the third-highest scoring output in the country, averaging a whopping 90.7 points per game. Williams (21.6 points), Battier (19.9), Carlos Boozer (13.3), Mike Dunleavy (12.6) and Nate James (12.3) all averaged in double digits.
Duke won every game in the tournament by at least 10 points, including an 82-72 win over Arizona in the national title game. Battier was named the tournament's most outstanding player to finish off a season where he was named AP Player of the Year.
It was a total team effort once again in the national final as Williams, Battier and Boozer scored in double figures to support Dunleavy's game-high 21 points. Arizona shot just 39.4 percent from the field and, despite getting it as close as five with 1:45 left, could not pull off the upset.
This was Duke's third national championship.
2: 1990-91, National Champions
1990-91 was the first championship in the history of Duke basketball. After coming up just short in back-to-back years, the Blue Devils finally got over the hump in 1991.
Once again led by Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley, the Blue Devils rebounded from their 103-73 loss in the 1990 title game by going 26-7 and winning the ACC Championship. Grant Hill also joined the squad this season, averaging 11.2 points and 5.1 rebounds.
Duke sprinted to the Final Four in 1991, winning every game by at least 12. Waiting for Duke in Indianapolis was the very same team that had defeated them before: the Runnin' Rebels of UNLV.
Christian Laettner scored a team-high 28 points—including two free throws with 12.7 seconds remaining—to give Duke all the cushion it would need. The win avenged their championship loss the season before and ended UNLV's 45-game winning streak.
Duke controlled the entire title game against Kansas and finally won their first national championship with a 72-65 win over the Jayhawks. Hurley's 12 points and eight assists were enough to earn him Final Four MVP honors.
1: 1991-92 National Champions
No team had repeated as national champions since UCLA did it in 1972 and 1973 (the tail end of seven straight), but Duke was poised and ready for the challenge in 1992. A year after winning Coach K his first title, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill went out and got him another one.
Duke went 28-2 during the regular season and posted an average margin of victory of 14.5 points. Laettner had another all-world season, averaging 21.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game while shooting an incredible 57.5 percent.
After big wins in the first three games, Duke ran into Kentucky and played what has to be the best NCAA Tournament game ever. Duke and Kentucky, two of the most storied programs in the history of the sport, met in the Elite Eight with both teams hitting their stride.
Led by Jamal Mashburn, Kentucky gave Duke all it could handle for 45 minutes. Mashburn would finish with 28 points and 10 rebounds, while Sean Woods had 21 points and nine assists.
The iconic image from this game is, obviously, The Shot Heard 'Round the World.
Trailing 103-102 with 2.1 seconds to play, Hill threw a full-court pass to Laettner, who caught it on the free-throw line. Laettner faked right, turned left and buried the fadeaway as time expired. The shot gave Laettner 31 points on 10-for-10 shooting—he also shot 10-for-10 at the line.
Somehow recovering from that game, Duke knocked off Indiana in another close game. Trailing by 12 at the end of the first half, Duke went on a 31-6 run that gave them a 13-point lead with 10:28 to play.
Not to be outdone, Todd Leary made three three-pointers in 27 seconds with less than two to play. Jamal Meeks' three with 13.6 seconds left could have tied the game, but it missed. Duke made their free throws to walk away with an 81-78 win.
After all this, they still had to play the national championship. After knocking off two other storied programs, they had to play the most hyped team in the sport: Michigan.
However, experience won out over talent in 1992 (unlike 2012), and the Blue Devils cut down the nets after a 71-51 win over the Fab Five.
Between the Kentucky and Indiana games, knocking off the Fab Five, Laettner's 20-for-20 game, the two losses all season and the back-to-back championships, 1992 has to go down as the most remarkable and memorable run in the history of Duke basketball.
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