It’s been a whirlwind few days since news of Duke men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s upcoming retirement broke Wednesday afternoon. As Blue Devil fans everywhere stare down the final season of his 40+ year career, we at the Blue Zone figure now is as good a time as ever to look back and appreciate each of Duke’s national titles under Coach K.
1991: Duke 72, Kansas 65
After playing their way into a fourth-straight Final Four appearance and fifth since Krzyzewski’s hiring, the Blue Devils avenged their 1990 title game loss to UNLV with a breathtaking last-second victory against the undefeated Runnin’ Rebels in what, to this day, remains one of the most dramatic victories in Duke basketball’s storied history. The win earned Krzyzewski his third trip to the game’s biggest stage where he and his squad would hold off a furious Jayhawk comeback to finally reach the top of the mountain, besting Kansas—led by future North Carolina head coach Roy Williams—behind the strength of Christian Laettner’s double-double and sophomore guard Bill McCaffrey’s sixteen points. It would be just the first of many trips to the podium for the Blue Devils under Krzyzewski, but it stands out as the one to truly cement Duke’s status among the sport’s elite few after nearly a decade of dominance.
1992: Duke 71, Michigan 51
With four starters returning from the previous year’s title team, the Blue Devils hit the ground running in the 1991-92 season behind senior captains Laettner and Brian Davis, eventually becoming the first team to win back-to-back national titles in nearly twenty years. Just like the year before, though, the real drama occurred before the national championship game. With just over two seconds remaining in their Elite Eight matchup, Duke trailed Rick Pitino’s Kentucky team by a point. Then, in a final effort to save their season, sophomore Grant Hill heaved a full-court inbounds pass to Laettner, the unanimous National Player of the Year, who promptly spun left and buried the jumper at the buzzer, sinking the Wildcats 104-103 and propelling the Blue Devils ahead with the unlikeliest of victories. From there, Duke earned hard-fought wins over Indiana in the Final Four and Michigan’s “Fab Five” in the title game, ultimately cutting down the nets once again and raising a second championship banner to the rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
2001: Duke 82, Arizona 72
The story of Duke’s third championship season under Krzyzewski was a bitter rivalry with Maryland. This four-game series featured Duke’s famed “Miracle Minute” triumph, Maryland’s Senior Day spoiler in Durham and, eventually, Duke’s historic 22-point comeback to top the Terrapins in the Final Four. With key contributions from a host of future NBA players, including Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and Jay Williams, the Blue Devils went on to face Arizona and Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson for the championship. The Wildcats played the Blue Devils close in the first half, but Duke’s talent ultimately broke through early in the second frame, delivering a third national championship and the program’s last for nearly a decade.
2010: Duke 61, Butler 59
The joy of Krzyzewski’s fourth championship—which tied him for second-most all-time—was only inches away from despair. Nolan Smith’s career-high 29 points and 20 points from senior captain Jon Scheyer—yes, that Jon Scheyer—pushed the Blue Devils past a resilient Baylor squad in the Elite Eight before another impressive Scheyer performance helped Duke topple West Virginia in the Final Four. All of this led to a classic championship game showdown with Brad Stevens’ fifth-seeded Butler and their star forward, Gordon Hayward. With Duke leading 61-59 and just 3.6 seconds on the clock, Hayward pulled down Brian Zoubek’s missed free throw and hoisted a miraculous half-court shot that quite honestly looked virtually perfect. It was not to be, however, as Hayward’s heave fell off the rim, and the Blue Devils landed back on top of college basketball.
2015: Duke 68, Wisconsin 63
Already immortalized in college basketball lore, Krzyzewski’s most recent title showcased the longtime coach’s ability to win across multiple eras. Armed with both veteran leadership in lone senior Quinn Cook and plenty of one-and-done talent in Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, the Blue Devils marched through the bracket largely unchallenged, thrashing Michigan State in a heavyweight Final Four matchup before encountering Wisconsin in the title tilt. Having just knocked off undefeated Kentucky on the other side of the bracket, Wisconsin proved a worthy opponent, leading the Blue Devils by as many as nine points in the second half before Jones and fellow freshman guard Grayson Allen caught fire, combining for 39 points as Krzyzewski’s fifth championship team held off the Badgers and cut down the nets once more.
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