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Andy Wittry | | April 3, 2022

Mike Krzyzewski's 11 best teams at Duke, ranked

NCAA's Gavitt on Krzyzewski retirement news: 'There will never be another Coach K'

The recently retired former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski coached 42 Blue Devils teams in his Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame career.

And we ranked every single one of them.

To try to make the rankings as objective as possible and to avoid biases of recency or the eventual NBA careers of Duke basketball alums, I created a point system to evaluate Duke teams across the five decades of Krzyzewski's tenure in Durham.

The maximum number of points was 475 โ€” 100 points for non-conference play, 100 points for the ACC regular season, 100 points for a team's Simple Rating System (SRS) rating that takes into account point differential and strength of schedule, 25 points for a team's ACC tournament finish, 50 points for a team's NCAA tournament seed, and 100 points for a team's NCAA tournament finish. Each Duke team's non-conference and conference schedule were evaluated based on winning percentage in order to adjust for the different number of games played in different seasons.

You can click or tap here to view the complete spreadsheet of the calculations and rankings.

A few notes:

  • Duke's 2022 team โ€” Coach K's last โ€” ranked 21st out of 42 teams.
  • Duke's 2020 team, which had its season shortened due to the cancellation of the ACC and NCAA tournaments, missed out on as many as 125 points, which is why it ranks 32nd out of 42 teams at the time of publishing. However, the 2020 Blue Devils were assigned an NCAA tournament seed of a No. 3 seed, since that's where Bracket Matrix โ€” a site that compiles dozens of NCAA tournament projections โ€” had slotted Duke when the 2020 season ended.

Here are Coach K's 11 best teams at Duke, ranked.

1. 2000-01

Record: 35-4 (13-3 ACC)
ACC tournament finish: Won ACC tournament
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Won national championship

In any objective or subjective rankings system, Duke's 2001 team, which featured three former consensus top-10 recruits and five future NBA players, would be a strong contender to be labeled Coach K's best team in Durham. The '01 Blue Devils were led by two consensus first-team All-Americans in point guard Jay Williams and forward Shane Battier, and the former was named the national player of the year by the NABC and the latter was named the Naismith Player of the Year.

Duke lost just four times all season by a combined 16 points and its first three losses came by a total margin of just five points. After a 10-0 start to the season, Duke lost by one point to No. 3 Stanford, which was the last undefeated team in the country with a 20-0 record before earning a No. 1 seed. Duke's loss to Stanford was then sandwiched with a nine-game winning streak, as the Blue Devils were 19-1 through their first 20 games.

Duke and North Carolina finished atop the ACC regular-season standings with 13-3 conference records, then the Blue Devils ended the season with another 10-game winning streak, as they won the ACC tournament, capped off with a 26-point win over the Tar Heels in the tournament final, then they went on to win the NCAA tournament with every win coming by at least 10 points and three of the wins coming against teams ranked in the top 15 of the final AP poll.

2. 1998-99

Record: 37-2 (16-0 ACC)
ACC tournament finish: Won ACC tournament
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in national championship game

Coach K has won five national titles as Duke, but those teams don't occupy the top five spots in our rankings. No, Duke's 1999 team, which lost in the national championship game to UConn, claims the No. 2 spot on our list.

Here's why.

That last Blue Devils team of the '90s finished with a 37-2 record and a .949 winning percentage, which is the best in program history. They were also one of two Duke teams to ever go undefeated in conference play โ€” joining the 1963 Blue Devils โ€” and the 1999 squad was the only Duke team to go undefeated in a 16-game ACC regular-season schedule.

How good were they?

Well, the aforementioned Shane Battier, who would help Duke win a national championship two years later as a first-team All-American, was a sophomore on this team and he was only the team's sixth-leading scorer. He was one of five future NBA players on the team and the other four were the team's top four scorers: Elton Brand (17.7 points per game), Trajan Langdon (17.3), William Avery (14.9) and Corey Maggette (10.6). Brand was a consensus first-team All-American and Langdon was on the second team.

After a neutral-site slip-up to No. 15 Cincinnati, 77-75, Duke rattled off 32 wins in a row โ€” not just 16 ACC regular-season opponents and three conference foes in the ACC tournament, but also non-conference wins over No. 9 Michigan State (a team Duke later beat again in the Final Four), No. 3 Kentucky and No. 8 St. John's, all of which came away from home.

Ultimately, Duke fell in the national championship game to fellow No. 1 seed UConn, 77-74, which gave the Huskies their first of four national championships in a 16-year span. So, Duke's two losses that season came on neutral courts to a future No. 3 seed and No. 1 seed, both by three points.

The SRS rating for Duke's 1999 team was 34.79, according to Sports Reference, which was both the best in the country that season and in program history, and it says that Duke would've beaten the average team by nearly 35 points that season.


3. 1991-92

Record: 34-2 (14-2 ACC)
ACC tournament finish: Won ACC tournament
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Won national championship

Duke's second national championship team, which repeated as national champions, ranks third on our list and well ahead of the Blue Devils' 1991 team. Duke lost the second-leading scorer from its 1991 team, guard Bill McCaffrey, but it returned four of the team's five players who averaged double figures in points per game: Christian Laettner, Thomas Hill, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill.

In the 1992 season, Duke started the season 17-0 (the program had won 23 games in a row, dating back to the 1991 NCAA tournament), and the Blue Devils lost just twice. Those two losses were by a combined six points, on the road against No. 9 North Carolina, 75-73, and on the road against Wake Forest, 72-68.

Duke then rattled off 13 wins in a row to end the season, as the Blue Devils finished atop the ACC standings by three games, won the ACC tournament, including a 20-point win over North Carolina in the tournament final, and then they repeated as national champions.

In one of the all-time classic games in men's college basketball history, Duke beat No. 2 seed Kentucky 104-103 in overtime in the Elite Eight on Laettner's game-winner from the free throw line, then Duke followed up that dramatic win with an 81-78 win over No. 2 seed Indiana in the Final Four.

In the national final, Duke coasted to a 20-point win over Michigan and the Fab Five, as the Blue Devils forced 20 turnovers and the Wolverines made just one of 11 3-point attempts. Laettner scored a game-high 19 points, while Grant Hill had an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double with five assists, and Thomas Hill had 16 points and seven rebounds.

4. 2014-15

Record: 35-4 (15-3 ACC)
ACC tournament finish: Lost in semifinals
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Won national championship

Duke's fifth and most recent national championship team went undefeated in its non-conference slate with a 13-0 record as part of a 14-0 start to the season. The Blue Devils went just 6-3 in January, including back-to-back losses to NC State (by 12 points) and Miami (16 points), but they then rattled off 12 wins in a row, before falling to Notre Dame in the semifinals of the ACC tournament.

Duke was 29-4 on Selection Sunday and earned a No. 1 seed thanks to a roster with eight future NBA players, led by first-team All-American center Jahlil Okafor and guard Quinn Cook, who earned second-team honors from some media outlets.

The 2015 Final Four was headlined by major powers โ€” Duke and then-undefeated Kentucky โ€” and three No. 1 seeds โ€” those two aforementioned schools, plus a Wisconsin team that was 35-3 when it arrived in Indianapolis. Michigan State, a two-time national title-winning program, rounded out the Final Four.

The Blue Devils sent the Spartans home with a 20-point loss, while Wisconsin ended Kentucky's bid for an undefeated season, and then Duke downed Wisconsin 68-63 behind a game-high 23 points from the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, freshman guard Tyus Jones.

MORE: Duke is starting to hit its stride in Coach K's farewell season

5. 2009-10

Record: 35-5 (13-3 ACC)
ACC tournament finish: Won ACC tournament
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Won national championship

For many basketball fans, the 2010 Blue Devils might be most remembered for the final play of their season โ€” Butler forward Gordon Hayward's half-court heave, which could've brought home a Cinderella-worthy championship in the Bulldogs' home city. However, his shot was off the mark and it gave Duke a two-point win and the program's fourth national championship in a 20-year span.

Those turn-of-the-decade Blue Devils had seven players who later played in the NBA, but it was guard Jon Scheyer, Krzyzewski's eventual replacement on the sidelines, who was the team's leading scorer at 18.2 points per game. This was a veteran group, with its top four scorers being juniors or seniors โ€” Scheyer, Kyle Singler (17.7 points per game), Nolan Smitih (17.4) and Brian Zoubek (5.6) โ€” and the team's top six players were non-freshman, which was a roster composition that Duke's next national title-winning team would depart from in the 2014-15 season.

Duke lost twice by double digits in a four-game span in late January, which dropped them to No. 11 in the AP poll for one week, but other than that, the Blue Devils were a top-10 mainstay all season. All five of their losses during the season came on the road, including three to ranked opponents and two by four points.

Until the national championship game, Duke managed the NCAA tournament fairly smoothly, with a seven-point win over No. 3 seed Baylor in the Elite Eight being its smallest margin of victory until Butler nearly became a made-for-Hollywood movie script had Hayward's prayer gone in.

Below, you can watch a full replay of Duke's national championship game victory over Butler.

6. 1985-86

Record: 37-3 (12-2 ACC)
ACC tournament finish: Won ACC tournament
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in national championship game

Duke's 1986 team was one of Krzyzewski's earliest groups โ€” it was the sixth out of his 42 teams โ€” and it still ranks among his best of all time, when considering it ranks third in program history in winning percentage (.925), tied for 13th in conference winning percentage (.857) and it finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll.

Duke, led by a group of seniors including Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, Dave Henderson and Jay Bilas, plus junior guard Tommy Amaker and freshman forward Danny Ferry, finished atop the ACC standings and won the conference tournament, before making a run to the national championship game, where it fell to Louisville, 72-69.

It was a stark difference from the previous two seasons, when Duke received a No. 3 seed, only to lose in the second round each year.

7. 1990-91

Record: 32-7 (11-3 ACC)
ACC tournament finish: Lost in semifinals
NCAA tournament seed: No. 2 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Won national championship

The 1991 Duke Blue Devils โ€” Krzyzewski's 11th team at the school โ€” will surely be remembered fondly by the legendary coach and fans of the program. It was Duke's first national championship team and one that followed three consecutive squads that made the Final Four, only to fall short of the ultimate goal. The 1990 Blue Devils lost in the national final and its two predecessors lost in the national semifinals.

Led by junior Christian Laettner, who averaged 19.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game amid a season that helped cement him as one of the most famous Blue Devils ever, Duke stumbled a couple times early in the season against elite competition, falling to No. 2 Arkansas by 10 points and at No. 6 Georgetown by five. The Blue Devils later dropped their ACC opener at Virginia, losing by 17. They were 10-3, a fine record, but they had played four ranked teams and lost to three of them.

Then, Duke won 15 of its next 18 games, including a 12-point win over Virginia in the Cavaliers' return game to Durham, a sweep of a North Carolina that was ranked in the top five during both matchups, and an 18-point win over a top 25 LSU team.

Thanks to the Blue Devils' sweep of the Tar Heels, they finished ahead of their Tobacco Road rival by one game in the conference standings, but fell to them in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, 96-74. That was Duke's final loss of the season, as these Blue Devils did what no previous Mike Krzyzewski-coached team had done up to that point โ€” win six NCAA tournament games in a row. They beat a pair of Big East foes, UConn and St. John's, in the second weekend, setting up a monstrous matchup against undefeated No. 1 seed UNLV in the Final Four. The Runnin' Rebels had won 34 games in a row that season and 45 dating back to March 1 of the previous year, as they had been the ones that knocked off the Blue Devils in the 1990 national championship game.

The '91 Blue Devils got their revenge, ending UNLV's bid for a perfect season with a 79-77 win, thanks to a team-high 28 points from Laettner and 15 off the bench from Brian Davis. Duke made more than half of its 2-point attempts, 25 of 48, it sank half of its eight 3-point attempts and it got to the free throw line for 21 attempts, making 17 of them.

In the national final, Duke downed Kansas, a program already with two national championships, including one in 1988. Laettner's 18-point, 10-rebound double-double paced the Blue Devils, while this time it was Bill McCaffrey who was the spark plug off the bench, with 16 points.

Below, you can watch a full replay of Duke's national championship game victory over Kansas.

8. 2018-19

Record: 32-6 (14-4 ACC)
ACC tournament finish: Won ACC tournament
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in regional final

Duke's 2019 squad needs little reintroduction. With a roster headlined by three of the four best freshmen in the country and four of the top 15, based on the RSCI index that is a consensus measurement of high school player rankings, Duke was competitive in almost every game it played. Its first loss of the season came by two points, 89-87, against Gonzaga in the championship game of the Maui Invitational and its second loss was to Syracuse in overtime.

At one point, those baby Blue Devils, with first-team All-Americans Zion Williamson, the Naismith Player of the Year, and RJ Barrett, plus fellow freshmen Cam Reddish and Tre Jones, were 23-2, when Williamson blew out one of his shoes early in the first Duke-North Carolina matchup that season. Duke lost that game by 16 points, then went 3-2 over its final five regular-season games, before Williamson returned for the ACC tournament. In his return, he dropped 29 points with 14 rebounds and five steals against Syracuse in Duke's first conference tournament game as the Blue Devils won the conference title and earned a No. 1 seed.

After cruising to a 23-point win over No. 16 seed North Dakota State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils played three nail-biters in a row, beating No. 9 seed UCF and coach Johnny Dawkins, a former Duke star, by one point in the second round and No. 4 seed Virginia Tech by two in the Sweet 16, before No. 2 seed Michigan State ended Duke's season in the Elite Eight with a 68-67 win.

That season's national champion, Virginia, finished the season 35-3 and Duke was responsible for two of those losses, thanks to a regular-season sweep of the 'Hoos, including a 10-point win in Charlottesville.

Below, you can watch a full replay of Duke's instant-classic win over UCF in the second round of the 2019 NCAA tournament.

9. 2003-04

Record: 31-6 (13-3 ACC)
ACC tournament finish: Lost in the ACC tournament final
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the Final Four

Amid a nine-year span from 1998 through 2006 in which Duke advanced to the Sweet 16, or further, in the NCAA tournament, the 2004 Blue Devils made the school's third Final Four appearance in a six-year span. The team's top six scorers went on to play in the NBA: J.J. Redick, Luol Deng, Daniel Ewing, Shelden Williams, Chris Duhon and Shavlik Randolph, and Duhon and Redick each received second or third-team All-America nods from at least one media outlet.

The first five of the aforementioned players averaged between 10 and 16 points per game, as Duke's talent-laden team was balanced with capable scorers.

Those Blue Devils suffered their first loss early in the season โ€” a 10-point defeat to Purdue โ€” and they responded with 18 consecutive wins, giving them a 21-1 record in mid-February. They lost three of their final seven regular-season games, but still entered the ACC tournament with a 25-4 record and they nearly won the conference tournament, falling to Maryland in overtime in the final. A one-point loss to No. 2 seed UConn in the Final Four ended Duke's season, as for the second time in five seasons UConn won a national championship after defeating Duke in the sport's final weekend.

Below, you can watch Redick's NCAA tournament highlights.

10. 1997-98

Record: 32-4 (15-1 ACC)
ACC tournament finish: Lost in ACC tournament final
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in regional final

Following Duke's impressive run in the mid-to-late 1980s and early '90s, when they made the NCAA tournament in 11 consecutive seasons, earned a top-three seed 10 times, won at least one NCAA tournament game in the final 10 seasons of that run and made seven Final Four appearances with back-to-back national title wins, the Blue Devils endured a few downs years.

They went 13-18 and missed the NCAA tournament in 1995, which was the third-worst winning percentage of Krzyzewski's Duke tenure. The following season, the 1995-96 campaign, Duke's win and loss totals flipped, as the Blue Devils went 18-13 and just 8-8 in ACC play, before bowing out in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

However, in the 1998 season, Duke really got back to the level of performance that had defined the program in the previous five to 10 years. The Blue Devils earned another No. 1 seed โ€” a seed they would receive five years in a row and in eight out of nine seasons โ€” as they lost just once in the ACC's regular season. They started and finished the regular season ranked No. 3 in the country, peaking at No. 1, thanks to a roster featuring upperclassmen Roshown McLeod (15.3 points per game at forward) and junior Trajan Langdon (14.7 points per game at guard), combined with a talented freshman class that featured Elton Brand and Shane Battier.

As Duke had done to Kentucky earlier in the '90s, it was Kentucky that ended Duke's season in the NCAA tournament with an 86-84 victory in the Elite Eight.

11. 2001-02

Record: 31-4 (13-3 ACC)
ACC tournament finish: Won ACC tournament
NCAA tournament seed: No. 1 seed
NCAA tournament finish: Lost in regional semifinal

A season after Duke won its third national championship, the Blue Devils returned a significant amount of the core players who had won them the 2001 national title. Seniors Shane Battier and Nate James had graduated but juniors Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Dahntay Jones were now upperclassmen and former elite high school prospect Chris Duhon was back for his sophomore season. Williams, who went by Jason at the time, was a first-team All-American that season and he was named the Naismith Player of the Year, while Dunleavy earned consensus second-team All-America honors.

Duke started and finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll and the Blue Devils once again earned a No. 1 seed. They were ranked No. 1 in the country during the entire 2001 portion of the season โ€” the first eight editions of the poll during the 2001-02 campaign โ€” and they spent six more weeks there in 2002.

Duke started 12-0, as the Blue Devils were the country's last undefeated men's basketball team, an honor they would also earn the following season. Their first loss was a one-point loss on the road to Florida State in their ACC opener, but they bounced back to their next 11, putting them at 23-1 in mid-February, with a one-possession margin of defeat keeping them from a perfect record.

After losing two of their final five regular-season games, both on the road, the Blue Devils won the ACC tournament with an average margin of victory of 19 points. In their first NCAA tournament game, they held No. 16 seed Winthrop to just 37 points and they knocked off Notre Dame in the next round.

But Duke's bid to repeat as the national champion came to a halt in the Sweet 16, when an upstart Indiana team, seeded No. 5, handed Duke a 74-73 loss as the Hoosiers made their way to the national championship, where they lost to a school that was responsible for one of Duke's other three losses that season: Maryland.

To see the rankings of teams No. 12 through No. 42, click or tap here to view the complete spreadsheet.

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