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Duke as NCAA Champions - Part III
April 8, 2010

The other day, I revelled in the fact that "Duke had just stolen a title they had no business winning," which seems to say they weren't any good and didn't belong. That's not technically true.

Truthfully, they were ranked in the top 10 all year, and top 6 or 7 for the overwhelming majority of the season. They went 26-5 in the regular season, 29-5 after winning the ACC Tournament, and finished 35-5 overall, winning 18 of their final 19 games. They were a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, as well, so they were not exactly pretenders to the throne.

But at the same time, this Duke team just isn't a dominant team like in years past. They didn't have a 10-15 point advantage merely by stepping onto the court. They had to fight, scrap, and claw for pretty much everything. Of the 4 championship teams Duke has fielded, they're easily the weakest. In fact, of the 11 Final Four teams since Coach K arrived, I wonder how many of them this year's team could actually beat?

Let's go through the teams, starting at the beginning.

1986 - This team went 37-3 and featured Johnny Dawkins (Duke and the ACC's all time leading scrorer until 2006 when JJ Redick broke the mark), Mark Alarie, Tommy Amaker, Dave Henderson, Danny Ferry, etc. They made it all the way to the championship game but got beat by Louisville by 3 points.

1988 - Featured Danny Ferry, Quin Snyder, Phil Henderson, John Smith, Robert Brickey. Lost in the Final Four to eventual champion Kansas.

1989 - Largely the same cast as before, added Christian Laettner. They lost to Seton Hall in the Final Four.

1990 - Losing Danny Ferry and Quin Snyder, this team was led by Laettner, Phil Henderson, Robert Brickey, Alaa Abdelnaby, and freshman Bobby Hurley. Made it to the championship game, got utterly demolished by UNLV.

1991 - Led by Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Thomas Hill, and Grant Hill, this team upset undefeated UNLV in the Final Four and went on to defeat Kansas for their first national championship.

1992 - Second verse, same as the first. Laettner, Hurley, Hill, Hill, Brian Davis, and freshman Cherokee Parks led the team to a 34-2 record, going wire to wire as #1 (the weeks they lost, everyone behind them lost, too) and beat Michigan 71-51 in the championship game. This is also the year of what is often regarded as the greatest game in college basketball history when Duke beat Kentucky in the Elite 8 on a full-court inbounds pass from Grant Hill to Christian Laettner with 2.1 seconds left for the turnaround game winner from 17 feet. Laettner's line that game: 10 for 10 from the field, 10 for 10 from the foul line, 31 points. Perfect.

1994 - Hurley, Laettner, Davis, and  Thomas Hill were gone, but this team was led by Grant Hill, Cherokee Parks, and Jeff Capel into the championship game where they lost to Arkansas.

1999 - This team was scary good. It featured Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, Will Avery, Correy Magette, Shane Battier, and Chris Carrawell. They finished 37-2 after being upset by Connecticut in the championship game by 3 points.

2001 - Featuring Shane Battier, Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, and Chris Duhon, this team beat Arizona to take the national championship.

2004 - Chris Duhon, Luol Deng, JJ Redick, and Shelden Williams led this team to the Final Four, where they were defeated once againby Connecticut.

2010 - This year's team. Led by John Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith, this team overcame a lack of depth on the perimeter and a lack of scoring inside to win the national championship over Butler.

You know what? I think this year's team gets beat by everybody else. If I had to rank them, I'd go in this order, championship teams italicized:

1992, 1991, 2001, 1999, 1986, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1994, 2004, 2010.

It just goes to show you don't have to be the best team ever, the best Duke team ever, or even necessarily the best team in a given year. You just have to be playing the best basketball of anybody in March. And who can argue that about this year's team? They beat everyone in front of them, and no one else did. They might not have looked like a championship caliber team in January when Georgetown ran them out of Washington with President Obama and Vice President Biden in the crowd, but they surely developed, only losing once more on senior night up at Maryland.

Congratulations, Duke, you earned it.

Song O The Day: What I've Overcome, Fireflight.

I'm Anthony Pegram. This site is a place where I can talk about things that interest me in music, video games, programming, and other parts of life. It's also a place where I test the latest and greatest in programming technology. Thanks for stopping by.