The most visible coach in college basketball is finally hanging it up. Mike Krzyzewski has announced that the upcoming 2021-2022 season will be his final year leading the Duke Blue Devils before he retires. Duke has reportedly tabbed assistant Jon Scheyer as the program’s coach-in-waiting, ending speculation on who will replace Coach K before it even begins.
College hoops simply won’t be the same without Coach K. Duke has been the sport’s most dominant program since Krzyzewski was hired in 1980. He enters his final season with five national championships, 12 Final Four appearances, and 1,170 career wins — the most in the history of men’s college basketball.
College basketball fans couldn’t get away from Duke over the last three decades as the program rose to prominence behind Coach K. Duke was the team constantly getting talked about on ESPN, and annually playing in big tournament games. The coverage of Duke felt overwhelming to fans of any other teams, and that had a way of bringing people together.
With Coach K at the helm, Duke became college basketball’s universal villains. The Blue Devils might have won more than any other program under Krzyzewski, but the very nature of college basketball meant they also suffered a lot of high profile losses that were widely celebrated by the haters.
As Coach K calls it quits, we wanted to look back at the program’s biggest moments of failure.
Losing to Mercer in the first round of the NCAA tournament
The 2014 Blue Devils were supposed to do big things in the NCAA tournament. Duke was led by Jabari Parker, the top freshman forward who was about to become the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft. Duke also had future NBA players Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook, as well as a terrific role player in Amile Jefferson. No one could have predicted the No. 3 seed would drop its first game to No. 14 seed Mercer, but that’s exactly what happened.
After the champions of the Atlantic Sun pulled off upset, one of their players did the Nae Nae dance at center court. This moment was like the best Christmas morning ever for people who hate Duke:
Losing to Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA tournament
Two years before Mercer shocked Duke in the first round, it was was Lehigh who pulled off a shocking upset of the Blue Devils. Duke entered the 2012 NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed with championship aspirations. Duke had four future NBA staters in their lineup, with Miles and Mason Plumlee being joined by Austin Rivers and Seth Curry. None of it intimidated the Mountain Hawks.
Lehigh became just the second No. 15 seed in the history of the tournament to that point to upset a No. 2 seed in the first round. For all the NBA talent on Duke’s roster, Lehigh still had the best player on the floor in junior guard C.J. McCollum. You can re-live the final three minutes here.
McCollum finished with 30 points and would go on to become a lottery pick a year later.
Failing to get to the Final Four with Zion Williamson and two other top-10 picks
Duke entered the 2019 NCAA Tournament with what felt like one of their most talented teams ever. Zion Williamson established himself as the most dominant player in the country, and one of the biggest stars college basketball had seen over the last decade. Duke also had the future No. 3 overall draft pick in R.J. Barrett and the No. 10 overall pick in Cam Reddish.
Duke barely edged UCF in the round of 32 and Virginia Tech in the Sweet 16 until they finally met a team they couldn’t beat in a close game: Michigan State.
Kenny Goins, a fifth-year walk-on senior, hit the go-ahead shot with 34 seconds left to put Michigan State up for good in the Elite Eight matchup. On a floor with so much NBA talent, it was incredible to watch a former walk-on in Goins make the biggest play of the game.
It just felt like Coach K failed to properly utilize Zion all season. There’s no doubt this one still stings for Krzyzewski.
Blowing a big lead vs. Kentucky in the 1998 Elite Eight
Duke’s 1997-1998 team had a loaded roster that included Trajan Langdon, Shane Battier, Steve Wojciechowski, and freshman big man Elton Brand. The Blue Devils started the year at No. 3 in the preseason polls and looked up be living up to the hype most of the year.
Duke entered the tournament as a No. 1 seed and blew out its first three opponents. Then came a matchup with Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Duke led by 15 points with under 10 minutes left in the second half when the Wildcats made their comeback, closing on a 30-10 run to stun the Blue Devils and knock them out of the tournament, 86-84.
Kentucky would go on to win its second national title in the last three years, but looking back, Duke certainly seemed like the most talented team in the country. The Blue Devils would get back to college basketball’s biggest stage the next year, but unfortunately for them they didn’t get the redemption they were hoping for.
Duke loses to UConn in 1999 national final
Duke returned the next year as the preseason No. 1 and looked poised for a vengeance tour. The Blue Devils won their first five games before falling to Cincinnati and future No. 1 overall draft pick Kenyon Martin in the Great Alaskan Shootout, but Coach K would get his team back on track. Duke did not lose again the regular season, and went on to win the ACC Tournament.
Entering the big dance as a No. 1 seed at 32-1 on the year, Duke blew out its first four tournament opponents, and then won a close game in the Final Four against No. 1 seed Michigan State. The only team standing between Duke and a national title was UConn, a men’s program that had never won it all. The Huskies would win, 77-74, behind Richard Hamilton’s 27 points. What could have gone down as K’s best team ever was ultimately a team that will be remembered for falling one game short.
Duke ended the year 37-2, but without a ring. The team would have four players selected in the lottery of the NBA draft in Brand, Langdon, Corey Maggette, and William Avery.
1993’s second round loss to Cal
Duke entered the 1992-1993 season looking to become the second team in men’s college basketball history to win three national championships in a row (John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins won seven in a row between 1967-1973). Christian Laettner had graduated, but Duke still had a stacked lineup that included Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley. The Blue Devils entered the tournament as a No. 2 seed and met Jason Kidd’s Cal team in the second round. No one expected the Bears to pull off the upset, but somehow they did.
While Kidd finished with 11 points and 14 assists, it was his teammate Lamond Murray who carried the scoring burden. Murray put up 28 points and 10 rebounds to shock the Blue Devils:
Duke’s entire 2020 season was a disaster
Duke was going to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995 during the 2020 season unless they won the ACC tournament. The Blue Devils won their first two games of the conference tournament, and then misfortune struck: there was a positive Covid test within the program that caused Duke to shutdown its season.
It’s hard to criticize any program trying to navigate the season during a global pandemic, but Duke simply wasn’t very good before the positive test. They finished only 9-9 in conference play, and saw their most talented player, Jalen Johnson, leave the team mid-season when he decided to step away from the team during a pandemic to prepare for the NBA draft.
Duke has reloaded for Coach K’s final season with a recruiting class led by the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Paolo Banchero. Can Coach K go out on top? The upcoming farewell tour is going to be the biggest story in the sport, and should be riveting regardless of how it ends.