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Coach K’s 30 NCAA Tournament Losses, Ranked From Delightful To Even More Delightful

Coach K seen here complaining to officials in a game that could have been played any time in the last 40 years.
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Five national titles, 13 Final Fours, 1,202 wins, blah blah blah. There is only one number I care about when it comes to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski—30. That’s the number of losses Coach K has suffered at Duke in the NCAA Tournament. Inshallah, that number will rise to 31 this weekend. In the meantime, here is a power ranking of those 30 losses, sorted for importance, thrills, and hilarity. It goes without saying that a loss to North Carolina on Saturday or to Villanova/Kansas in Krzyzewski’s last final will immediately vault right to the top of this list.

30. LOUISVILLE 72, DUKE 69—1986 (Championship game)

Hard as it may be to believe, there was a time when Duke wasn’t essential to root against. Krzyzewski began his career with a 38-47 record and was nearly run out of Durham. Given a reprieve he built a worthy program, keyed by recruits like Johnny Dawkins and Mark Alarie. Louisville rode a memorable night from “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison (25 points) to a tight win, as Duke’s “sentimental favorite” era was about to end.

29. BOSTON COLLEGE 74, DUKE 73—1985 (Second Round)

The Eagles wiped out an early double-digit deficit to beat a still-callow Duke.

28. KANSAS 66, DUKE 59—1988 (National Semifinal)

Danny Manning was so dominant, and the crowd at Kemper Arena in Kansas City so partisan, you almost felt a little bad for Duke in this one.

Almost. 

27. MICHIGAN STATE 68, DUKE 67—2019 (Elite Eight)

Such is the charisma of Zion Williamson that the 2019 version of the Duke AAU All-Stars, who already featured top recruits R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones, added Zion suspiciously late in the recruiting process, and yet were difficult to truly hate.

26. EASTERN MICHIGAN 75, DUKE 60—1996 (Frist Round)

Krzyzewski’s lowest-seeded team was thoroughly beaten by the Eagles and 5-foot-5 mighty mite Earl Boykins, who whizzed around the lumbering Dookies for 23 points.  

25. PROVIDENCE 98, DUKE 87—1997 (Second Round)

The flawed ’97 Blue Devils were seeded second mostly on reputation, and were easily ushered out by the Friars, coached by Pete Gillen, who said “[Duke] is on TV more than Leave It To Beaver.” It remains true that no program has fielded more Eddie Haskells than Duke.

24. INDIANA 88, DUKE 82—1987 (Sweet 16)

Losing to Indiana in the year that Hoosiers hit movie theaters is no crime.

23. VILLANOVA 77, DUKE 54—2009 (Sweet 16)

A straight-up stomping that left Coach K short of the Elite Eight for the fifth consecutive tournament.

22. OREGON 82 DUKE 68—2016 (Sweet 16)

A whipping best remembered for Krzyzewski’s sanctimonious postgame scolding of Ducks player Dillon Brooks, who had the audacity to put up a three in the dwindling seconds of a blowout. Coach K then lied about it in the post-game presser, adding deceit to arrogance. Think, for a moment, about what a career achievement it is on K’s part that a loss this loathsome is still ranked this low.

21. KANSAS 69, DUKE 65—2003 (Sweet 16)

Mainly enjoyable for then-star freshman J.J. Redick’s 2-for-16 shooting performance.

20. MICHIGAN STATE 78, DUKE 68—2005 (Sweet 16)

Redick’s tournament struggles continued, going 4-of-14 from the floor and getting posterized by Maurice Ager in a jam that sent tingles up the spine of Duke-haters everywhere.

19. ARIZONA 93, DUKE 77—2011 (Sweet 16)

Six years later, another memorable slam iced the Blue Devils, this one by Derrick Williams, who finished with 32 points.

18. SOUTH CAROLINA, 88 DUKE 81—2017 (Second Round)

South Carolina hung 65 second-half points on Duke for only the program’s second tourney win in 44 years; the first had come just 48 hours earlier.

17. WASHINGTON 80, DUKE 78–1984 (Second Round)

This was Coach K’s first-ever tournament game (the Devils earned a first-round bye in the final tourney before the expansion to a 64-team field) and the Huskies pulled out an upset over the third-seeded Devils thanks to 30 points from the “Grand Teuton,” future NBA star Detlef Schrempf. A major home court advantage, given that the game was held in Pullman, Washington, probably didn’t hurt. The game ended after Dawkins collided with a U-Dub player while trying—and failing—to corral an alley-oop pass. 

This is notable mostly because Krzyzewski, of course, is still pissed about that non-call nearly forty years later. “Dawkins got undercut, and there was no call,” he told reporters just weeks ago. “So that was my first [NCAA tournament] experience, and we lost a real close game.”

For Krzyzewski, it was an early lesson in the importance of berating referees for the full 40 minutes. He would not forget it.

16. FLORIDA 87, DUKE 78—2000 (Sweet 16)

A highly enjoyable loss—with one caveat. Florida scored the game’s last 13 points to stun Coach K in delicious fashion, but several key Gators—ranked by unctuousness, it’s roughly Mike Miller, Brent Nelson, and then Teddy Dupay—uncomfortably resembled despised Dookies of seasons past. Even Florida coach Billy Donovan still kind of looked like the sort of sweet-shooting, floor-slapping villain that Krzyzewski routinely produced. Had the teams traded uniforms no would have been the wiser. 

15. LOUISVILLE 85, DUKE 63—2013 (Elite Eight)

AKA the Kevin Ware Game. The Louisville guard suffered a gruesome broken leg (look up the video on your own, ghouls) in the first half. Inspired, the Cards “won it for Ware” by blitzing the Devils with the all-out pressure defense that would ultimately win them the championship. One shudders to imagine a world where an injured Duke player motivated such a victory. There would be a song called “One Shining Devil” and we’d hear it every April.

14. SETON HALL 95, DUKE 78—1989 (Final Four)

In an offense to all that humankind has ever held dear, this team featured both senior Danny Ferry and freshman Christian Laettner, a real-time passing of the torch between widely loathed Duke bigs. Duke stormed to a 26-8 lead in this game and seemed poised to shake their Final Four demons, but P.J. Carlesimo’s team slowly strangled the life out of the Blue Devils. Seton Hall shockingly turned that 18-point deficit into a resounding 17-point victory. It seemed that there was nothing Coach K could do to win the tournament. We now know better, but in the moment it was pure sugarcane. 

13. KENTUCKY 86, DUKE 84—1998 (Elite Eight)

Duke received payback for its absurdly lucky win over the Wildcats six years earlier when Kentucky’s Jeff Padgett hit a three from the top of the key with forty seconds left that wound up being the decisive bucket in this thriller. Tubby Smith’s crew went on to win the title, while Krzyzewski surely thought to himself, “I can’t believe I lost a big game to Tubby Smith.”

12. WEST VIRGINIA 73, DUKE 67—2012 (Second Round)

While John Calipari was rolling to the title with his latest group of NBA-bound freshmen, Coach K was sent homeward by a generic tryhard seventh-seed. Top recruit Greg Paulus was typical of this era’s Devil—a chesty alpha weirdo who peaked in high school. 

Afterward, a WVU benchwarmer was told Paulus was one of eight McDonald’s All-Americans on Duke’s roster. His reply—“Oh my God, are you kidding?”—spelled the end of an era. After this one, Krzyzewski realized he had to regularly recruit the sort of players who considered Durham a brief stopover on the way to the NBA, or be left behind. That realization would revitalize the final decade of Krzyzewski’s tenure at Duke. It also meant he would seldom coach a player with several years of built-up hate equity like Laettner or Ferry again. 

11. MERCER 78, DUKE 71—2014 (First Round)

Coach K adapted well to college basketball’s new reality, and turned out to be pretty good at recruiting one-and-done players. But when the ones weren’t great, his teams were done, even against a 14-seed from the Atlantic Sun Conference. Mercer didn’t produce any pros, but they put the “dance” in the Big Dance after their upset win. No team has stunted on Duke harder.

10. INDIANA 74, DUKE 73—2002 (Sweet 16)

The 2001 Blue Devils should never have won the championship, but an epic Maryland choke and some comically awful officiating against Arizona made sure that they did. This meant that 2002 couldn’t come fast enough for Duke haters. 

This loss was delicious on its own, as Duke blew a 17-point lead to a young Indiana team under Mike Davis, who had replaced Krzyzewski’s mentor/enemy Bobby Knight in Bloomington. In the waning seconds IU led by four. Jason Williams, who was not yet Jay, drained a three and was fouled on the shot, leading Davis to bury his head in anguish. But Williams amazingly missed the free throw that would have tied it, Carlos Boozer missed a follow-up bunny, and Duke went home in a delayed but most satisfying defeat.

9. VCU 79, DUKE 77—2007 (First Round)

The 11th-seeded Rams of Virginia Commonwealth shamed the Devils when guard Eric Maynor nailed the game-winner with 1.8 seconds left. He did this over a flailing Jon Scheyer, an especially reviled “Next Redick” type now set to succeed Krzyzewski as Duke head coach next season. If Scheyer had a sense of humor, he would schedule VCU every year, but he interned under Coach K, so it seems unlikely. 

8. KANSAS 85, DUKE 81 (OT)—2018 (Elite Eight)

Grayson Allen was less the typical toxically swaggy Duke Douchebag and more an actual menace. Devils-haters prayed for his comeuppance ever since his pivotal play off the bench as a freshman helped Krzyzewski win his fifth title in 2015, and they finally got it here. 

Allen had a crack at sending his team to the Final Four with a bank shot at the end of this tense Elite Eight matchup in Omaha, but it rolled around and out. The Jayhawks controlled overtime, as Malik Newman scored all 13 KU points in the extra frame. Allen walked off the floor a loser for the last time as a collegian. He has since continued to be a menace as a professional. Who says Coach K doesn’t prepare his players for life in the NBA?

7. UNLV 103, DUKE 73–1990 (Championship)

Duke losing by the largest margin in title game history is certainly worth a top ten ranking.

6. UCONN 79, DUKE 78—2004 (Final Four)

“You cheated us!!” 

That’s what Krzyzewski yelled at referee Ted Hillary after his three big men all fouled out trying to stop UConn center Emeka Okafor in this tight semifinal. Of course, Coach K’s moaning overlooked the fact that Okafor, a consensus All-American who scored 18 second-half points, sat for most of the first half with foul trouble. Duke still led by nine late in the game. UConn then went on a stunning 15-2 run to close things out, leaving Krzyzewski in shock and looking for scapegoats. One was Hillary; another was a reporter who accurately described Duke’s final few minutes as a “collapse.” 

“Obviously, you didn’t watch the game,” was Mike’s snotty reply.

5. LEHIGH 75, DUKE 70—2012 (First Round)

A 15-over-2 upset is usually defined by a bunch of plucky little dudes outhustling the big boys. In this stunner in Greensboro, N.C., Duke’s home away from home, tiny Lehigh had easily the best player on the floor—future NBA star C.J. McCollum. C.J dropped a 30-pill on the Devils. Coach K slunk back to Durham in shock. 

4. ARKANSAS 76, DUKE 72—1994 (Championship)

The game that made every college basketball fan of that generation a lifelong Scotty Thurman acolyte. He drained a rainbow three to prevent Duke from winning a third title in four years.

3. LSU 62, DUKE 54–2006 (Sweet 16)

It was “Big Baby” over big baby as LSU’s Glen Davis seized the stage and bested Redick, whose career ended in tears after a miserable 11-point, 3-of-18 shooting performance in his finale in blue. I was in attendance at the Georgia Dome, making this the only one of these games I’ve seen in person. I will be honest with you: it felt amazing.

2. UCONN 77, DUKE 74—1999 (Championship)

The 1999 Duke team might well have been Coach K’s finest vintage. They entered the championship game 37-1 (16-0 in the ACC, 33 wins by double-digits). The lineup featured future pros Shane Battier, Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Trajan Langdon, and William Avery, and the 9.5-point spread made the Devils the biggest championship game favorite in the expanded tourney era.

UConn was hardly Cinderella, but Jim Calhoun had replaced Krzyzewski as the “can’t win the big one” coach. Fortunately, the Huskies had the best player on the court—sniper Richard “Rip” Hamilton, who won this duel, scoring 27 points, and a tough freshman named Khalid El-Amin made several big shots down the stretch. The cherry came when Langdon botched two attempts at a final shot, first traveling and then losing his dribble as time expired. 

For all the titles Krzyzewski has won, this loss surely causes him a few sleepless evenings each month. Freshman stars Brand and Maggette would both enter the NBA Draft; Brand would later share nasty letters from Duke alums about his choice to do so. These fans probably won’t send similar complaints to Paolo Banchero when he leaves the school in about a week.

  1. CAL 82, DUKE 77—1993 (Second Round)

It was the worst of times for Duke haters. Coach K’s team had won back-to-back national titles, been to five consecutive Final Fours, and not missed the Sweet 16 in eight long years. The despicable Laettner had at last graduated, but the equally despised Bobby Hurley remained, as did the Hills, Thomas and Grant, along with a new Floppy-Haired Hateable Dude in Cherokee Parks. It all seemed to spell yet another deep run into April, and a truly nauseating threepeat.

But on a glorious Saturday evening at the Rosemont Horizon just outside Chicago, a freshman point guard named Jason Kidd put an end to all that, and ushered in a lovely stretch of (relative) Duke incompetence. 

The Bears held a 17-point second half lead at one point, but then gave it all up, as Hurley made key shot after key shot on his way to 32 points in his final college game. Duke led by one as the clock ticked toward a minute to play. Then Kidd grabbed a loose ball in the lane and put in a twisting reverse bank shot, plus a foul. The three-point play put Cal ahead for good.

Forget his Hall of Fame NBA career, his more forgettable coaching career, and leave aside his long rap sheet as a creep—preventing a seemingly inevitable Duke three-peat is a pillar of Kidd’s legacy.

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