Duke basketball history: A comprehensive record of Mike Krzyzewski's 13 trips to the Final Four
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski will coach in his 13th — and last — Final Four this weekend in New Orleans.
Krzyzewski has converted his previous 12 Final Four appearances into 5 National Championships and 4 runner-up finishes. Aside from UCLA’s John Wooden — who coached in a different era of the NCAA Tournament — Krzyzewski’s accomplishments are simply peerless.
Here’s a full breakdown of Krzyzewski’s history in the Final Four
1986: Lost National Final
This was Mike Krzyzewski’s 1st crack at the Final Four — and he made a great run at it. Duke ended up falling to Louisville in the National Championship Game, but not before picking up an impressive win over Kansas in the semifinal.
Overall, Duke went 37-3 overall and cruised to the ACC Tournament title.
1986 was the last ride for players like Johnny Dawkins and Jay Bilas, who both got picked in the 1st round of the 1986 NBA Draft. Tommy Amaker and Danny Ferry were both impact players on this team, too.
1988: Lost Final Four
Krzyzewski’s next Final Four appearance ended in disappointment, too. The Blue Devils lost to a Kansas team that was just a No. 6 seed, but peaked at the right moment.
”I think they played pretty good defense inside,” Krzyzewski said after the game, ”but we also missed shots. I thought we missed 4 or 5 inside shots in the 1st half and they blocked some shots. But we had opportunities and we couldn’t put them down.”
The legendary Larry Brown bested Krzyzewski and ultimately won the National Championship by upsetting No. 1-seeded Oklahoma. This team has since been nicknamed “Danny and the Miracles,” with homage to their star player, Danny Manning. Kansas’ 11 losses are the most ever by an eventual National Champion.
It’s worth noting this Final Four took place in Kansas City — less than an hour’s drive from Lawrence, Kansas.
1989: Lost Final Four
This was Danny Ferry’s last chance at a National Championship with Duke, and the Blue Devils ultimately came up short. Duke lost to Seton Hall 95-78. Michigan went on to beat Seton Hall in the Championship Game.
Duke was a heavy favorite in this game, but Ferry’s 34 points weren’t enough. Seton Hall shot 53.2 percent from the field.
This was the 1st Final Four appearance for a freshman by the name of Christian Laettner, who would go on to make the Final Four in every season of his college career. He started the game and scored 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting.
1990: Lost National Final
Another trip to the Final Four, another disappointment. This time, Duke’s loss came at the hands of an offensive juggernaut in UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels got hot at the right time and set the all-time scoring record for 6 games in the NCAA Tournament (571).
UNLV scored 101 points in the National Championship Game vs. Duke, which remains the only time a team has broken the century mark in the final game.
However, after the game, it was UNLV’s defense that had Krzyzewski’s attention.
“It’s obvious UNLV was awesome,” Krzyzewski said. “It was an incredible display of great basketball by UNLV. Their half-court defense is the best in the country. We couldn’t overcome their great defense. And their defense led to a lot of offense.
“I think it was the best a team ever played against me as a coach. I’m in awe. I don’t know if you realize how great they were defensively. I don’t know if there is anything we could do.”
Notably, this was Bobby Hurley’s freshman season. It would be the 1st of 3 straight Final Four appearances for him.
1991: Won National Final
At last, Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils break through. After failing in the Final Four the previous 2 seasons, Duke won the National Championship Game in 1991.
It did so by exercising a couple demons along the way, too. Duke beat another high-flying UNLV team in the Final Four and then took care of business vs. Kansas in the national final.
Duke and North Carolina nearly met in this game. However, the Jayhawks beat UNC in the Final Four to advance to the championship game.
This was the 3rd straight Final Four for Laettner, but he had help from Bobby Hurley and a freshman named Grant Hill. Laettner led the team with 18 points. Hill filled up the box score with 10 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Hurley had 12 points and 9 assists.
1992: Won National Final
Duke won the National Championship again in 1992. This was the Blue Devils’ 5th straight trip to the Final Four and 3rd consecutive time to reach the national final.
Once again, it was Laettner who provided the heroics. He scored a team-high 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting as the Blue Devils defeated Michigan’s “Fab Five.”
“It wasn’t the prettiest game, but we were resilient out there,”Bobby Hurley said after the game. “We got the job done.”
Of course, Duke would have never made the Final Four that season if not for Laettner’s legendary game-winner over Kentucky in the Elite Eight.
Duke became the 1st team in the modern era (64-team NCAA Tournament) to win back-to-back championships. Only Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators (2006-07) have been able to repeat that feat in the decades since.
It was at this point that it became clear Krzyzewski’s Duke teams were going to remain a national contender for years to come. Krzyzewski’s early struggles at Duke (zero NCAA Tournament appearance in his 1st 3 seasons) and recent NCAA Tournament shortcomings (losing in 4 Final Fours before breaking through) were in the rearview mirror.
1994: Lost National Final
After a 1-year absence from the Final Four, Duke was back for a 6th time in 7 seasons in 1994.
However, Duke couldn’t quite capture its 3rd championship in 4 seasons. The Blue Devils lost to Nolan Richardson’s “40 minutes of Hell” Arkansas Razorbacks in the ’94 title game, 76-72. Duke had previously beaten Arkansas in the 1990 Final Four.
With less than a minute remaining, Arkansas’ Scotty Thurman hit the (eventual) game winner over Antonio Lang as the shot clock was nearly expired.
“It was the best shot I ever saw in my life,” Richardson said after the game.
This was the final game of Grant Hill’s collegiate career. He had 12 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists in the loss.
1999: Lost National Final
Duke’s reign of dominance over the rest of college basketball took a bit of a break in the mid 1990s. Krzyzewski missed nearly all of the 1994-95 season due to back surgery. Duke missed the NCAA Tournament that season and then was bounced in the 1st weekend of both 1996 and 1997.
The Blue Devils didn’t make it back to the Final Four until 1999, when a core of Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Trajan Langdon and Corey Maggette led them back to the promised land.
However, Duke ultimately fell to UConn in the 1999 national final. Future NBA All-Star Richard Hamilton was simply too much — he scored 27 points and willed the Huskies to victory.
2001: Won National Final
Nearly a decade after winning his 1st National Championship, Krzyzewski did it again. The Blue Devils won it all in 2001 with a roster that was loaded with NBA talent and collegiate standouts.
Battier was the senior leader on a team that also included Carlos Boozer, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy and Jay Williams.
“All that’s left for me is to ride off in the sunset on a white horse,” Battier said after the game. “We fought to the end. What a great way to end the year.”
Duke cruised to the National Championship, winning all 6 games by 10+ points. The Blue Devils defeated Arizona in the national final, 82-72.
Boozer had 12 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. Battier played all 40 minutes and produced 18 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists. Dunleavy led the team with 21 points.
2004: Lost Final Four
Krzyzewski’s 4th National Championship proved to be elusive in 2004. The Blue Devils ended up losing in the Final Four to UConn, 79-78. The Huskies ultimately won the National Championship that season.
This was the final run for Duhon, who was a contributor on Duke’s National Championship team in 2001. It was also the final (and only) season for freshman Luol Deng, who became the No. 7 overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft.
Perhaps most notably, it turned out to be the only Final Four appearance for Duke legends JJ Redick and Shelden Williams. Redick and Williams were sophomores for this run, but the Blue Devils never made it back to the Final Four in their careers. Still, both had such distinguished careers that their numbers are retired at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“This definitely hurts,” Redick said after his final collegiate game, an upset loss to LSU in the Sweet 16 in 2006. “The last 4 years have been pretty amazing and I didn’t want that to end.”
2010: Won National Final
Krzyzewski had to wait nearly another decade before winning another National Championship. He accomplished that feat in 2010 as Duke marched through the NCAA Tournament field.
Only Butler gave the Blue Devils fits in that tournament. The Bulldogs were a No. 5 seed and nearly became one of the most legendary teams in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
Gordon Heyward’s half court heave at the buzzer was inches away from banking in and giving Butler the 2010 National Championship. Instead, it was Krzyzewski’s 4th ring.
“It will become an historic game, a benchmark game,” Krzyzewski said after the game. “Not just the way it was played, but who played in it and what comes about.”
Kyle Singler led the way with 19 points and 9 rebounds. Duke assistant (and coach-in-waiting) Jon Scheyer was also on this team and scored 15 points in the national final.
2015: Won National Final
In 2015, Krzyzewski won his 5th — and, to date, most recent — National Championship. The Blue Devils were once again loaded with NBA-ready talent and fully invested into the one-and-done era of college basketball.
That year, Duke brought in 4 5-star freshmen: Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Grayson Allen. Winslow, Jones and Okafor all became 1st round picks in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Those freshmen combined with veterans like Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson made Duke one of the favorites to win it all. And that’s exactly what the Blue Devils did — they defeated a historic Wisconsin team 68-63 in one of the most anticipated national title games in recent memory.
Wisconsin beat a previously-undefeated Kentucky team in the other semifinal, setting up a colossal clash with the Blue Devils. In the National Championship Game, Jones led all scorers with 23 points. Allen played a pivotal role off the bench, scoring 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting. He found ways to score even after Wisconsin took a 9-point lead.
“When we got 9 points down, we were in foul trouble and a little bit disjointed,” Krzyzewski said after the game. “Grayson put us on his back. We went to him kind of exclusively because of his ability to drive and penetrate. And he did, he finished.”
2022: To Be Determined
Duke will face North Carolina in the Final Four on Saturday night, marking a historic moment in the history of this rivalry. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels have never met under the backdrop of March Madness — let alone a stage such as the Final Four.
This Duke team has as much raw talent as any other in Krzyzewski’s tenure. 5 players — Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, Mark Williams, Trevor Keels and Wendell Moore — could be 1st round draft picks. Another, Jeremy Roach, also has a good chance at a professional future.
Banchero is in the mix to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. If he is, he’d join Elton Brand, Kyrie Irving and Zion Williamson as No. 1 picks produced by Krzyzewski. Griffin is a near-lock to be picked in the lottery and Williams has a chance at that range, too.
That talent has come alive during the NCAA Tournament, despite a couple of stumbles earlier in March. Impressive wins over Michigan State, Texas Tech and Arkansas have now overshadowed embarrassing, high-profile losses to North Carolina and Virginia Tech earlier in the year.
“I just feel so good about my guys. In this NCAA Tournament my team has just played such good basketball, and in pressure situations,” Krzyzewski said after Duke’s Elite Eight win vs. Arkansas. “I mean, they were a close team before the NCAAs, but during these last 4 games they have been terrific.
With Krzyzewski’s final game set to take place one way or another this weekend, there’s only one question left to answer: How does this story end?