Best wins bracket: 20th century postseason region

Christian Laettner's four years in Durham included many memorable victories.
Christian Laettner's four years in Durham included many memorable victories.

Editor's note: This is part of The Chronicle's bracket for Duke men's basketball's best wins of the Coach K era. If you want an overview of the tournament or information on the other regions within the bracket, click here.

Coach K won two NCAA championships and four conference tournaments prior to the turn of the century, and those runs, as well as countless other seasons before the new millennium, included many historic wins. Presented below is the bracket, descriptions and matchups of the eight Blue Devil wins that make up this region of our best wins tournament.



No. 1 seed: Duke 104, Kentucky 103 (OT): March 28, 1992 (The Spectrum)

In what is widely considered one of the greatest college basketball games of all time, top-seeded Duke and second-seeded Kentucky battled for all 45 minutes until that iconic final buzzer. After being neck-and-neck for all of regulation, which included Christian Laettner’s infamous step on Aminu Timberlake’s chest, the Wildcats received a miracle in the form of Sean Woods’ ludicrous one-handed floater. Seconds later, that miracle was ripped away from them when Laettner made “The Shot," a bucket so iconic it owns the most familiar word in the game.

No. 2 seed: Duke 79, UNLV 77: March 30, 1991 (RCA Dome)

The previous season, UNLV smacked Duke 103-73 in what is still the biggest blowout in national championship game history. Fast forward a year later and the Runnin’ Rebels were heading into their Final Four matchup against the Blue Devils 34-0 and widely expected to become the first undefeated national champions since Bob Knight’s Inidana Hoosiers in 1976. But thanks to a late Bobby Hurley three and two Laettner free throws with 12 seconds remaining, Duke was able to pull off the shocking upset. The Blue Devils would win their first national title two days later against Kansas.

No. 3 seed: Duke 79, Connecticut 78 (OT): March 24, 1990 (Izod Center)

Everyone remembers Laettner’s shot against Kentucky, but not as many recall that he did the exact same thing against Connecticut two years earlier. With Duke down by one and 2.6 seconds showing on the clock, Krzyzewski noticed that the Huskies weren’t guarding the Blue Devils’ inbounder at midcourt, which was Laettner, and quickly called out a play for the 6-foot-11 forward to pass the ball in and quickly receive it back. Laettner did just that, sinking the buzzer-beating leaner to send Duke to its second of four straight Final Fours.

No. 4 seed: Duke 68, Georgia Tech 67: March 9, 1986 (Greensboro Coliseum)

Duke’s 1985-86 squad, the team that would eventually set the precedent for the program’s continued dominance, earned Coach K his first ACC tournament title with a hard-fought win against Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game. The Blue Devils relied on forcing deep, low-value shots in the final year before the introduction of the 3-point line to gain an edge in the victory, while exceptional performances by Tommy Amaker and Johnny Dawkins on both ends of the floor showed the world why they could be considered the best backcourt in college hoops at the time.

No. 5 seed: Duke 72, Kansas 65: April 1, 1991 (RCA Dome)

Coming off an emotional victory against UNLV in the Final Four, there was nothing that could stop the Blue Devils now. The fireworks began with a highlight-reel alley-oop between Hurley and Grant Hill in the game’s opening minutes and Duke never looked back, widening its lead to as much as 14 points in the second half and capturing the program’s first national championship.

No. 6 seed: Duke 71, Kansas 67: March 29, 1986 (Reunion Arena)

After starting their careers with a dismal 11-17 1982-83 campaign under a then-no name coach in Mike Krzyzewski, Duke’s class of 1986 peaked on the biggest stage in Dallas. In a battle of No. 1 seeds in the Final Four, Dawkins, Mark Alarie, Dave Henderson and Jay Bilas dropped 56 of the Blue Devils’ 71 points as Duke held off Kansas to advance to the national championship game. Although the Blue Devils did not win the title, the tournament run set the stage for the Blue Devils’ last 35 years of success.

No. 7 seed: Duke 77, North Carolina 75: March 10, 1984 (Greensboro Coliseum)

North Carolina steamrolled through the ACC en route to a perfect 14-0 regular season slate behind a man named Michael Jordan, though Duke nearly bested the Tar Heels in the regular season finale, taking its rival to a pair of overtimes. But exactly one week later in Greensboro, the Blue Devils were able to finish the upset. Duke held off North Carolina 77-75 for the program’s first win against the Tar Heels since 1981, advancing to the ACC title game in the process.

No. 8 seed: Duke 71, Michigan 51: April 6, 1992 (Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome)

It was another battle between Michigan’s Fab Five and Duke’s mighty 1991-92 squad, except this one was played on the grandest of stages: the national championship game. Although the Wolverines hung close in the two teams’ first matchup the previous December, the Blue Devils simply proved too much to handle this time around. Michigan led by one at the half but Duke dominated the final 20 minutes to cap off the team’s second consecutive national championship and arguably the best season in program history.

Regional finals

No. 1: Duke vs. Kentucky 1992

No. 2: Duke vs. UNLV 1991

Second-round matchups

No. 1: Duke vs. Kentucky 1992

No. 5: Duke vs. Kansas 1991

No. 2: Duke vs. UNLV 1991

No. 3: Duke vs. Connecticut 1990

First-round matchups

No. 1: Duke vs. Kentucky 1992

No. 8: Duke vs. Michigan 1992

No. 2: Duke vs. UNLV 1991

No. 7: Duke vs. UNC 1984 (ACC tournament)

No. 3: Duke vs. Connecticut 1990

No. 6: Duke vs. Kansas 1986

No. 4: Duke vs. Georgia Tech 1986 (ACC tournament)

No. 5: Duke vs. Kansas 1991

Michael Model

Digital Strategy Director for Vol. 115, Michael was previously Sports Editor for Vol. 114 and Assistant Blue Zone Editor for Vol. 113.  Michael is a senior majoring in Statistical Science and is interested in data analytics and using data to make insights.


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