Mike Krzyzewski is one of the most decorated and celebrated figures in college basketball history. Lovingly dubbed “Coach K,” the man has earned countless accolades and led teams to victories with stunning consistency.
Coach K is best known for his 42 seasons as the head coach of the Duke University Men’s basketball team. His career spanned more than 40 years coaching NCAA basketball before he finally retired in 2022 at age 76.
Under his tutelage, the Duke Blue Devils earned five national titles.
There’s no better time to look back at Coach K’s March Madness prowess than right now, the week the 2023 tournament begins.
Duke’s first victory under Coach K came during the 1990-91 NCAA basketball season. The primary narrative of the season was UNLV’s undefeated 34-0 regular season run. The Rebels trounced their way into the semifinals, but the Duke Blue Devils wouldn’t back down. They beat UNLV 79-77 and earned a spot in the finals.
The championship match-up didn’t prove quite so close. Duke defeated the Kansas Jayhawks. Turns out KU did not rock chalk that day, falling to Duke and giving Coach K and his team their first championship in a 72-65 win.
The following year brought a repeat for Coach K and the Blue Devils, making Duke the first repeat NCAA victors since the 1972-73 UCLA Bruins. Duke defeated Michigan in a bonafide blowout, winning the game 71-51.
From there, Duke entered a 9-year stretch without a championship, though they got close. Coach K’s squad made the Elite Eight in 1997-98 and the Sweet 16 in 1999-00. In 1998-99, Duke was the runner-up, losing to UConn by three points.
Then in 2000-01, Coach K led Duke to another championship, beating Maryland 95-84 in the Final Four and earning the trophy in the finals against Arizona with an 82-72 win.
Another 9-year drought ensued, yielding a Final Four loss (2003-04) first round elimination (2006-07), a second-round loss (2007-08), and four Sweet 16 outings.
Lightning struck again in 2009-10. The semifinals pitted number-one seed Duke against number-two seed West Virginia. The Blue Devils and Coach K overcame WVU without much trouble in a 20-point victory. Duke then met the Butler Bulldogs in the final game. IT was a nailbiter, but the Blue Devils won 61-59, earning Coach K his fourth and penultimate March Madness championship.
Coach K’s fifth and final March madness win came in 2014-15. With a decisive 20-point victory over the Michigan State Spartans in the semis, Coach K and Duke set their sights on fellow one-seed Wisconsin. The Badgers put up a fight, but the Blue Devils took home the win, 68-63.
With five wins under his belt (and many more near misses), Coach K entered his final season in 2021-2022. All signs pointed to a remarkable farewell as Duke played their hearts out straight to the Final Four.
Hopes of a retiring-season victory for Coach K were dashed by UNC in a 94-81 loss in the semifinals. Still, Coach K retired with 1,196 wins and five championships, not to mention plenty of strong outings in other March Madness seasons.
Coach K will go down in history as one of the all-time greats. He retired with 101 tournament game wins on his record. The next closest coaches to that astronomical number are Roy Williams (Kansas, North Carolina) at 77 and Dean Smith of North Carolina at 65.
Who will the next big legacy coach be? Time will tell, and Coach K left some big shoes to fill.
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