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Ranking Mike Krzyzewski’s Biggest March Madness Moments

By Dan Vasta in College Basketball
| December 4, 2021 6:50 am PDT

College basketball has several dominant powerhouse programs that have millions of eyes on them. The Duke Blue Devils are one of those programs, and plenty of the credit belongs to Mike Krzyzewski.

The Hall of Fame legendary coach had plenty of classic finishes over the years in the NCAA Tournament. He entered his final season with 94 wins in the dance, and many of them led to Final Fours and national titles.

Here are your top moments in March Madness during the coaching career of Mike Krzyzewski.

10. Final Four Victory: March 29, 1986

Landing in his first Final Four was a treat but getting to the national title in his first attempt was surreal. Duke was in its sixth season with Krzyzewski at the helm.

Durham was hoping for a run at greatness, and the Blue Devils would reach the Final Four in five of nine seasons. Duke had to battle against David Robinson and Navy in the Elite 8 but won by 20.

The stars for the first successful Duke squad are a few familiar names.

  • Johnny Dawkins
  • Tommy Amaker
  • Jay Bilas
  • Danny Ferry
  • Mark Alarie

The Blue Devils knocked off Kansas to punch a ticket to their first national title under Krzyzewski. While they lost to Louisville two days later, they would be back several more times.

The first time a program breakthrough and keeps returning, we can all look back in time at the moments that things turned for the better.

9. Final Four Streak Begins: March 26, 1988

This victory was the beginning of an impressive streak. It still has been standing as a record for consecutive Final Four trips in the expansion of 64 teams (1985).

Duke made the Final Four after knocking off Temple by 10 in the 1988 East Regional Final. The Blue Devils had five consecutive Final Fours thanks to impressive regular seasons.

  • 1988: 2-seed (lost in national semifinals)
  • 1989: 2-seed (lost in national semifinals)
  • 1990: 3-seed (lost in national title)
  • 1991: 2-seed (won national title)
  • 1992: 1-seed (won national title)

It often helps to have exceptional seasons before March to play lesser teams, but any game could be the one that ends your season.

Mike Krzyzewski won 94 games in the NCAA Tournament, entering his final season at Duke. The runs he had in the 80s and 90s were magical.

Despite losing to Danny Manning in the Final Four in 1988, it was the start of something special. The victory over Temple was only the beginning of a national powerhouse program.

8. Final Four Victory: March 31, 2001

One of the better moments in the history of Coach K’s career came in 2001. The NCAA Tournament and the season, in general, were bonkers.

Duke was the preseason number two team, but they failed to win the ACC regular-season title. North Carolina ended up winning the conference, but the Blue Devils exacted their revenge in the ACC Tournament with a blowout victory.

The Blue Devils made it to the Final Four without many struggles. They won their first four games by double-digits, and they had to face Maryland for the fourth time on the season.

The first three were highly entertaining matchups that looked like national title games. The first matchup in College Park was where the Dukies pulled off their Minute Miracle. They trailed by ten in a minute and eventually won in overtime.

Maryland knocked off Duke in Durham, but the Blue Devils won the third matchup in the ACC Tournament. The fourth meant the most with a trip to the national title against Arizona.

The Wildcats were the preseason number one squad, but the AP Preseason Top 5 was remarkably impressive.

  • No. 1: Arizona (lost in the national title)
  • No. 2: Duke (won national title)
  • No. 3: Michigan State (lost in Final Four)
  • No. 4: Stanford (lost in Elite 8)
  • No. 5: Maryland (lost in Final Four)

We often see disappointing teams that struggle to reach the dance these days atop the poll, but 2001 was about dominance. Duke trailed by as many as 22 points (39-17) in the first half. They put together a magical run at the end of the first half and in the second half made up the difference.

Duke miraculously won by 11, 95-84. The victory allowed Coach K to be one more win away from getting to his third national title. The wait of a decade would eventually come to an end, but it was their dramatic comeback that lives as one of the better moments in the history of the Final Four.

7. Second National Championship: April 6, 1992

Winning the second title for Coach K and Duke was one of the better moments in his career. The repeat was complete after their prayers were complete against Kentucky in the Regional Final.

They knocked off Indiana in the Final Four and had to knock off Michigan for a second time that season. They met on the hardwood in the fifth game of the season in Ann Arbor. The Blue Devils prevailed in overtime, but the national title was never close in the rematch.

The big three of Michigan in the national title struggled a season after suffering a devastating loss to North Carolina.

  • Chris Webber in Game 1 (27) and Game 2 (14)
  • Juwan Howard in Game 1 (4) and Game 2 (9)
  • Jalen Rose in Game 1 (18) and Game 2 (11)

It was a repeat national championship for Krzyzewski, and it was his third straight appearance in the national title game. Times were great for Duke, and it was the end of an era for Laettner.

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6. Overtime Thriller: March 24, 1990

Before Christian Laettner hit the game-winner over Kentucky in 1992, there were a few near misses. Duke battled Connecticut in a thrilling finish that came down to the wire.

The game went to overtime. After relinquishing a lead in regulation, Duke trailed by one with under 2.6 seconds left.

Laettner made the inbound pass and got it back immediately before hoisting from the left elbow to bury the game-winning bucket. It sent Duke into the Final Four, which led to one of the better moments of the career of Krzyzewski.

5. Upsetting UNLV: March 30, 1991

Stunning UNLV could be the most accomplished win in the coaching career of Mike Krzyzewski. Duke was 10-point underdogs to UNLV. It was a season after getting demolished by the Runnin’ Rebels.

Their 30-point loss the year prior was devastating, and many questioned if they could get back to a national title-like game. The Cameron Crazies remained faithful and had the confidence that the team could do anything under Krzyzewski.

Coach K was able to have his team laser-sharp focused en route to their stunning upset. It was nearly a given for UNLV was expected to run the table and win the national title with ease.

Christian Laettner went off for 28 points, and they survived a UNLV offense that struggled to get high percentage shots off during the game.

Larry Johnson was quiet, and the Rebels defense could not limit anybody on Duke. The Blue Devils shot lights out, and the upset for Krzyzewski remains as their top upset in the NCAA Tournament.

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4. First National Championship: April 1, 1991

Every legend remembers their first national championship. Mike Krzyzewski is perhaps the GOAT in the coaching ranks, but the ’90s were fun times in Durham.

Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, and Christian Laettner could be the top trio in Duke basketball. They combined for 40 points in their 72-65 victory over Kansas.

Many forget they had to regather their thoughts and emotions after stunning UNLV two days prior.

Celebrating with Mike Brey and Johnny Dawkins after Grant Hill grabbed the missed shot at the buzzer became one of the top moments of Krzyzewski.

3. Fourth National Championship: April 5, 2010

Gordon Hayward and Butler nearly stunned Duke in the national title. The Blue Devils were an underappreciated and often doubted 1-seed that ended up going 35-5.

The Blue Devils often have a few elite athletes that become future NBA lottery picks. This squad was not one of them, but they were an experienced bunch.

Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, and Jon Scheyer were the trio of stars that carried them in the backcourt.

  • Nolan Smith: 17.4 PPG, 3.0 APG, 2.8 REB
  • Kyle Singler: 17.7 PPG, 7,0 REB, 2.4 APG
  • Jon Scheyer: 18.2 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.6 REB

Butler was the underdog story under Brad Stevens, but the game was a thriller. It came down to the final shot, and Gordon Heyward’s half-court heave bounced off the backboard and rimmed out.

The celebration by Krzyzewski and his assistants was a memorable moment. It goes to show how the road to the Final Four is often full of surprises and disappointments. Winning his third title was great.

However, the game itself was one of the tighter ones in the entire career of Coach K.

2. Third National Championship: April 2, 2001

Coach K’s best team ever for many die-hard Dukies. The Blue Devils were simply dominant during the regular season, posting a 35-4 record. This team had a bevy of future pros, and they could devour most great Duke squads.

The 2001 title in Minnesota was a productive city for Krzyzewski.

  • Jay Williams
  • Carlos Boozer
  • Shane Battier
  • Mike Dunleavy Jr.
  • Chris Duhon
  • Nate James

Duke won the 1992 title in Minnesota, but the 2001 matchup between Arizona and Duke was a showdown between the top two preseason squads.

The Blue Devils were coming off a monumental comeback over Maryland the game prior.

Winning his third national title thanks to his most talented team is right there atop the best moment in March for Krzyzewski.

1. The Shot: March 28, 1992

The best moment in Krzyzewski’s career was one of the most iconic moments in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Duke was attempting to reach their third straight title game.

Coach K was gradually turning the Blue Devils into a national powerhouse. Their 1991-92 season was nearly perfect. They entered their Elite 8 matchup against Kentucky with only two losses. The records were impressive for Duke, and they were on a magical run.

  • 1991-92: 1 seed, 34-2 (won National Championship)
  • 1990-91: 2 seed, 32-7 (won National Championship)
  • 1989-90: 3 seed, 29-9 (lost in National Championship)

Kentucky was an offensive juggernaut that season with Jamal Mashburn and Sean Woods. Having this game end up in overtime and come down to one final shot was poetic. Grant Hill made a spectacular pass to Christian Laettner.

The Wildcats put nobody on the ball, and that proved pivotal. Hill made a perfect pass, and Laettner made a tremendous catch while dribbling before rising and firing. The shot went in, and the finish ranks among the most coveted in sports history.

Coach K would lead Duke to victory the next two rounds and would earn his second national title. Duke and Kentucky are two of the top programs, and to have the pair in the Elite 8 was a dream come true.

Summary

The fans, players, and moments in this game alone made Laettner’s shot the best moment in Coach K’s illustrious career. Several others missed the cut, but the greatest coach ever will have dozens of top moments.

These moments were all in the NCAA Tournament. Many moments mentioned throughout the article happened in the regular season. North Carolina’s Roy Williams retired, and the Tobacco Road rivalry has had several thrilling finishes that went in favor and against Coach K.

The buzzer-beaters, the comebacks, and the statement victories were flawless. They brought the fans a lifetime of memories, and the best moments are atop the list in the vault of college basketball history.

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