Once again, the Duke Blue Devils are the favorites to win the NCAA tournament, according to Las Vegas.
College basketball and betting odds are funny that way, because it should be an honor that some of the smartest people in forecasting the future think Duke will bring home the gold. On the other hand, knowing that Duke’s the favorite makes it even sweeter when they flame out way earlier than expected.
Especially because those Duke flameouts are just as, if not more memorable, than the Duke championships.
Since 1980, Mike Krzyzewski has been the head coach in Durham, and this year will make the 33rd time his team has made the tournament. In that time, Duke’s won five national championships. More importantly, Duke’s lost nine times in the first or second round as favorites.
To pay homage to those nine losses, I’ve ranked them in order based on how epic the moment was. This list is not up for debate, but it is up for your laughter and enjoyment.
Let us begin.
#10 – No. 3 Duke vs. No. 6 California, 1993
This is the only game I’ll ever give Duke a pass on, because West Coast Bias is a real thing and we weren’t aware how talented and diabolical this Cal Bears squad truly was. Led by future point-God Jason Kidd and future 12-year NBA veteran Lamond Murray, Cal’s 82-77 is still arguably the greatest moment in Berkeley basketball history. This Duke team was thin, as Christian Laettner was a Timberwolf and the duo of Bobby Hurley (32 points) and Grant Hill (18 points) weren’t enough to help Coach K three-peat.
Two things of note here. One, I now want to go purchase a Jason Kidd #5 Cal basketball uniform. Two, I couldn’t stop laughing at the sad music at the end of the video.
#9 – No. 2 Duke vs. No. 7 South Carolina, 2017
Because America needs to know more about Sindarius Thornwell and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Also, anytime Duke gets upset then you have to update this list so…whenever Duke does this again in 2018, we’ll make another update.
What’s crazy is, thinking about all the shenanigans that we saw from Duke this season…maybe this wasn’t a super shocker. The Blue Devils weren’t a deep team, Coach K had health issues, Grayson Allen was still wildin’ out….I mean, we’re still going to laugh at them, but unfortunately this only sits at #9.
#8 – No. 3 Duke vs. No. 11 Boston College, 1985
The Eagles featured a future NBA All-Star in 5’10” dynamo point guard Michael Adams and a future Maryland Terrapins national champion coach in Gary Williams. Adams gave Duke the work with 19 points and Williams employed a 1-3-1 zone that shut down Duke star Johnny Dawkins to the tune of just 6-of-21 shooting and 18 points.
I know Jay Bilas is a disciple of all things Jeezy, but I wonder what he was listening to in 1985. My best guess is Big Daddy Kane.
#7 – No. 8 Duke vs. No. 9 Eastern Michigan, 1996
More than anything, I love it when a player I’ve never heard of before from a school that hardly ever makes the tournament makes his name in front of America. Earl Boykins was the first player I witnessed do this on my television screen. The 5’5″ guard from Cleveland channeled his inner George Gervin and put 23 on Duke, including 10 in the last seven minutes to give Eastern Michigan a 75-60 win.
No but seriously, Duke lost by 15 points to a team whose best player was 5’5″. Forever laughter at Duke for this.
#6 – No. 2 Duke vs. No. 10 Providence, 1997
A couple of things to note here:
- Somehow Providence, not Duke, had the best tall white guy player on the basketball court in Austin Croshere.
- God Shammgod dunks are always worth your time, especially when it’s of the snowbird (or depending where you grew up, cherry picking) variety.
- Jeff Capel’s shooting form is legit.
Jeff Capel’s flawed coaching of Blake Griffin while at Oklahoma is one of the forgotten tragedies in college basketball history.(Sorry, off topic)
Also, to the announcer here who says, “but God Shammgod took this one to the alter.” Well done sir, well done.
#5 – No. 2 Duke vs. No. 7 West Virginia, 2008
Few players and coaches have benefitted from beating Duke more than Joe Alexander and John Beilein. Alexander, who like Croshere, was also somehow able to be the best tall white guy on the court against the Blue Devils. The result? A 22 point-11 rebound performance that included and-1’s, threes and blocked shots that made us briefly think Alexander could be the next big thing in the league. Beilein, with his Princeton-esque offense, gave Duke’s defense the blues.
Alexander shimmied his way up draft boards to be drafted 8th overall in the 2008 NBA Draft, Beilein eventually took the head coaching job at Michigan. Well done gents, well done.
#4 – No. 3 Duke vs. No. 6 Washington, 1984
In Coach K’s first tournament appearance, Duke faced off against a tall, lanky German prodigy with an epic shooting touch. Before there was Dirk Nowitzki, there was Detlef Schrempf, and he gave the Blue Devils a 30-piece that made Duke’s time in the tourney a relatively short one. There’s no footage of Washington’s epic victory, but I present this to you instead…the 8th pick in the 1985 NBA Draft.
Now that’s what I call perfection in a draft day suit.
#3 – No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Lehigh, 2012
CJ McCollum told a great story via The Players’ Tribune about talking a female friend on campus at Lehigh after the news broke they’d be playing Duke in the tournament. While he was confident that his team could beat the Blue Devils, she wondered who would guard Austin Rivers.
“Uh … me.”
“Oh, well good luck with that.”
“Hey, if you have time, do you think you could pass him my number?”
I hope CJ went back to campus and give her Austin’s number. “1-800-TAKE-THE-L”
#2 – No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 Mercer, 2014
Mercer beat Duke 78-71 in the first round of the 2014 tournament. I could go into detail about what happened in the game, so I’ll just leave a link to the highlights here. However, when Kevin Canevari said to the world, “I’m going to do it for the culture.” We had no idea it would lead to this viral moment.
Bruh, y’all let the 10th man on Mercer hit the Nae Nae on y’all? This will forever be funny.
#1 – No. 6 Duke vs. No. 11 VCU, 2007
I will forever love Eric Maynor.
My appreciation for the man ran so high that I actually sponsored his basketball-reference.com page. Why would I do such a thing, you might ask?
Yes Kevin Harlan, it was indeed the dagger. It was a perfect ether to put Duke down for good, and I still get goosebumps watching it. Few things will ever feel as good.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”