By: David Cobb
Mike Krzyzewski’s 42nd and final season as Duke’s basketball coach will end in New Orleans. That’s where the No. 2 seed Blue Devils are headed after another nearly flawless offensive outing on Saturday night to outlast No. 4 seed Arkansas 78-69 and secure a spot in the Final Four next weekend.
Krzyzewski will be making his 13th Final Four appearance, which equates to one for every four years during his 42-year run with the Blue Devils. That marks a new college basketball record for most Final Fours by a coach, breaking the previous record held by UCLA legend John Wooden.
With the win, Krzyzewski is 101-30 all-time in NCAA Tournament games after he became the first coach to reach 100 victories in the Big Dance during his team’s Sweet 16 victory over Texas Tech on Thursday. Coach K also surpassed 1,200 career victories in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and now stands at 1,202-367 entering the Final Four.
For a Duke team that lost its regular season finale at home to North Carolina on March 5 and and then lost by 15 to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament title game a week later, a Final Four appearance seemed improbable less than two weeks ago. On Selection Sunday, skepticism abounded over whether the Blue Devils truly deserved a No. 2 seed.
But over the first two weekends of NCAA Tournament play, a youth-laden Duke team has blossomed and started to reached its full potential. In the process, Krzyzewski has found a new perspective that should only benefit his team as it tries to send him off with a sixth national title.
As Krzyzewski finishes his 42nd and final season at Duke before handing the program over to associate head coach Jon Scheyer, we will update this piece with the latest tributes — and tribulations — from the farewell tour of a coaching legend.
Final Four bound
Duke faced yet another elite defense in the Elite Eight, and the Blue Devils turned in another elite offensive performance as they cruised past Arkansas 78-69 to reach Krzyzewski’s 13th Final Four. AJ Griffin led the No. 2 seed Blue Devils with 18 points. But it was a balanced effort for Duke, which followed up on a masterful showing against Texas Tech in the Sweet 16 with another hot shooting night. In both games, Duke’s offensive execution stood out. With sophomores Jeremy Roach and Mark Williams playing some of their best basketball at Duke, the Blue Devils looked like a team on a mission during the second weekend of the Big Dance.
The victory over Texas Tech made Coach K the first to ever reach 100 career NCAA Tournament victories. And the win over Arkansas put Krzyzewski ahead of John Wooden for first all-time in number of Final Four appearances with 13.
Sweet 16 showdown
After falling behind 10-2 in the opening minutes and trailing 33-29 at halftime, Duke rallied in the second half for a 78-73 win over No. 3 seed Texas Tech in the Sweet 16. The Blue Devils shot 70.8% from the floor in the second half against the Red Raiders, who entered the game with arguably the nation’s top defense. No other team scored more points in regulation of a game against TTU all season than Duke, which was led by 22 points from Paolo Banchero. Krzyzewski also green-lighted Duke’s change to a zone defense in the second half, which wound up helping the Blue Devils flip the game’s momentum in their favor.
Duke survives first weekend
The Blue Devils advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament with a relatively drama-free win over Cal State Fullerton in the first round and a thrilling victory over Michigan State in the second round. Michigan State gave Duke everything it could handle, but the No. 2 seed Blue Devils survived for an 85-76 victory over the No. 7 seed Spartans to advance to the Sweet 16. The outcome gave Krzyzewski his 1,200th victory and prolonged his career for at least one more game. With the win, Krzyzewski will close his career with an all-time record of 13-3 against Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
Blue Devils receive No. 2 seed
Less than 24 hours after losing in the ACC Tournament title game, Duke learned it would begin NCAA Tournament play as a No. 2 seed in the West Region taking on No. 15 seed Cal State Fullerton in a first round game. Though Duke was part of the West Region, it got sent to Greenville, South Carolina, for the first two rounds. The location just four hours from the Duke campus allowed for fans of the Blue Devils to make the trip.
Duke falls in ACC title game
Duke was aiming for its 16th ACC Tournament title under Krzyzewski on March 12, but the Blue Devils ran into a hot Virginia Tech team and fell 82-67. Hunter Cattoor led the Hokies with a career-high 31 points, showing once again that the Blue Devils have some defensive issues to address entering the Big Dance.
“They’ve been like a well-oiled machine,” Krzyzewski said afterward. “They’re a team that you need two or three days of preparation for to put in your defensive game plan, and it still might not work. I think they’re the team they thought they were going to be at the beginning of the year. They hung in there, and they probably got tougher, built more character, and became so close, and it shows up in these last 15 games or so that they’ve played. They’re really good. Our kids fought like crazy. We played hard. An older team handles tired better. I know they played an extra game than us, but when you’re older, you handle that better.”
ACC Tournament battles
Duke faced stiff resistance in its first two ACC Tournament games. First, the No. 1 seed Blue Devils needed a late surge to beat No. 9 seed Syracuse 88-79 and advance to the semifinals. It was the final game between Coach K and his friend and longtime rival Jim Boeheim. Despite playing without leading scorer Buddy Boeheim, the Orange led 79-78 lead at the 3:32 mark before fading in the end. Then came another meeting with Miami, a team that Duke split with in the regular season. The game was tied at halftime and close until the end. But junior wing Wendell Moore Jr. turned it on in the second half to help Duke win 80-76 and advance to the title game.
Final home game
Krzyzewski’s final season as Duke’s coach reached a long-awaited milestone on March 5. as the college basketball legend coached his final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The result, a 94-81 loss to rival North Carolina, cast a pall over the day. But it was nonetheless a historic occasion for Duke and the sport as a whole. Before a planned postgame ceremony began, Krzyzewski took the microphone unprompted and offered an apology for his team’s performance after they were outscored 55-40 by the Tar Heels in the second half. In classic Coach K form, he even snapped “please everyone be quiet” as fans tried to cheer before he could make his point.
“This isn’t part of the program,” he said. “This is impromptu by me. I’m sorry about this afternoon. It’s unacceptable. Today was unacceptable, but the season has been very acceptable. And I’ll tell you, the season isn’t over.”
Ticket prices soar for final home game
Duke vs. North Carolina is always a tough ticket. But the historic nature of Coach K’s final home game coming against the Tar Heels on March 5 sent rates into overdrive. As the No. 6 Blue Devils prepared to host UNC, the cheapest tickets available for the game on StubHub the morning before tip were $4,699. The most expensive seats — on the floor behind one of the baskets — were $99,988 apiece.
Clinching the No. 1 seed
Duke secured the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament and the ACC regular-season league title with an 86-56 victory over Pittsburgh on March 1 in Krzyzewski’s last trip to play the Panthers. The victory marked seven straight for Duke, which entered the day’s action as a projected No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm. Before the action got started, Pittsburgh played a video tribute for Krzyzewski highlighted by a message from Panthers coach Jeff Capel, a former star guard for Duke under Coach K.
Jim Boeheim and Coach K share a moment
With Krzyzewski coaching his final game at the Carrier Dome against Syracuse and close friend Jim Boeheim on Feb. 26, the Orange gave Coach K a heartfelt sendoff. Syracuse presented Coach K with a framed photo of he and Boeheim printed on a piece of the Carrier Dome roof. Syracuse also announced the creation of a new scholarship in Krzyzewski’s honor. The Captain Michael William Krzyzewski Award for Leadership and Civic Engagement will go annually to a military-affiliated Syracuse student “who through their actions and aspirations embodies Coach Krzyzewski’s public and demonstrated commitment to the virtues of honor, empathy, and servant-leadership.”
Tony Bennett honors Coach K
Virginia coach Tony Bennett offered a classy tribute to retiring Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on Feb. 23 before the Cavaliers hosted the Duke in a game the Blue Devils won the game 65-61. Bennett presented Krzyzewski with a commemorative plaque. He also took a microphone and expressed his gratitude to Coach K as the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena offered warm applause.
“I want to take this opportunity, because this is important for me and our team and the rest of us, to acknowledge your monumental contributions to the basketball world,” Bennett said. “Mainly, our game in college basketball. Your success is remarkable, and you stood the test of time.”
Coach K returns after exhaustion bout
Krzyzewski returned to the bench for his team’s 88-70 win over Florida State on Feb. 19 after missing the second half of a win over Wake Forest earlier in the week due to a health scare. The No. 9 Blue Devils kept stress levels down for Coach K and a raucous crowd by dismantling an injury-plagued FSU team with a 52% shooting performance. With the win, Duke improved to 23-4 (13-3 ACC) and pulled ahead of Notre Dame atop the ACC standings after the Fighting Irish fell to 12-4 in league play with a loss at Wake Forest. It was Coach K’s penultimate home game.
Wake Forest health scare
Krzyzewski was not on the bench during the the second half of the No. 9 Blue Devils’ 74-72 victory over Wake Forest on Jan. 15 because of a health scare. He explained later that he wasn’t feeling well during the half and felt as though he might pass out upon standing to return to the locker room at halftime. Without Coach K on the bench, Jon Scheyer took command and coached the team to a dramatic win. Wake Forest used a late 9-0 run to tie the game at 74 with 20 seconds left. From there, Mark Williams won it for Duke with a dunk on a follow-up shot in the final second that was initially waved off due to basket interference. It wasn’t Scheyer’s first time with solo command of the team this season as Coach K also missed Duke’s first win over Wake Forest on Jan. 12 with an illness.
BC steps up with a donation
Boston College became the latest ACC program to announce a donation to the Emily K Center upon Krzyzewski’s final visit to their arena. The Eagles made the announcement on Feb. 12 before the No. 7 Blue Devils knocked off BC 72-61. The Emily K Center is a nonprofit organization in Durham, North Carolina, named after Krzyzewski’s mother that provides educational programs.
Florida State and Clemson are the other schools that have made similar pledges this season as Krzyzewski makes his final tour around the conference before retiring at the end of this season. The victory over the Eagles improved Duke to 21-4 (11-3 ACC) as five players reached double figures, led by freshman phenom Paolo Banchero’s 16 points and 14 rebounds. It was Banchero’s eighth double-double of the season and second straight.
David Collins incident
Duke easily handled Clemson 82-64 on Feb. 10, but Krzyzewski’s final road game against the Tigers came with some extracurricular drama. Tensions rose in the first half when Clemson guard David Collins undercut Blue Devils’ wing Wendell Moore Jr. as Moore attempted a breakaway dunk. Collins received a Flagrant 2 foul on the play and was ejected after Coach K came on to the floor in protest. Moore was able to return to the game, and Collins apologized to Coach K, which helped diffuse the situation. Before the scary playing involving Moore and Collins, the night began in cordial fashion when Clemson announced it will donate $5 for each of Krzyzewski’s career victories to the Emily K Center, a nonprofit organization named after Krzyzewski’s mother.
Losing to Virginia
Coming off an emotional victory at rival North Carolina on Saturday, No. 7 Duke lost to unranked Virginia 69-68 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 7. Cavaliers sophomore guard Reece Beekman drilled a game-winning 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds remaining as the Blue Devils lost for the first time since a Jan. 18 defeat vs. Florida State on Jan. 18. Duke’s Paolo Banchero, who scored a season-low nine points, had a chance to win the game for the Blue Devils, but his desperation 3-point attempt hit only the side of the backboard as the buzzer sounded.
Winning big at UNC
There were no plaques, polite golf claps, video montages or other commemorative gestures as Krzyzewski coached his final game at the Dean Smith Center on Feb. 5. Instead, the Tar Heels’ fans booed as he was introduced in a reminder of just how bitter the Duke-UNC rivalry is. The Blue Devils responded by laying an 87-67 whooping on UNC that ensured Coach K will end his coaching career with a winning record against Duke’s arch rival. AJ Griffin led the way with a career-high 27 points. With first-year UNC coach Hubert Davis coaching his first game in the rivalry, it means that Krzyzewski’s tenure has now touched the tenures of five different North Carolina coaches. Davis will get at least one more shot at Coach K when the teams meet again at Duke on March 5 in the regular-season finale for both. For a look back at some the rivalry’s top moments from Krzyzewski’s tenure, check out this link.
Beating Notre Dame, preparing for UNC
Following a 57-43 win at Notre Dame on Jan. 31 that improved the Blue Devils to 18-3 (8-2 ACC), Duke turned its attention to preparing for its first game with North Carolina. The Tar Heels won both meetings between the programs last season, which sent legendary UNC coach Roy Williams into retirement on a positive note within the parameters of the storied rivalry. The difference was that Williams did not announce his retirement until after the season. Krzyzewski is on what amounts to a farewell tour, and it ratchets up the hype for his final trip to the Dean Dome. The reception should be a bit more cool than the one he received at Notre Dame from Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey, who was an assistant at Duke under Coach K from 1987 to 1995.
Denny Crum greets Coach K
Legendary former Louisville coach Denny Crum presented Krzyzewski with a customized Louisville Slugger baseball bat and a bottle of bourbon featuring Krzyzewski’s face before the Cardinals and Blue Devils squared off on Jan. 29. Louisville also gave Duke all it could handle on the court before Coach K’s squad escaped with a 74-65 victory. With Trevor Keels out of the lineup once again due to a leg injury, a big game from fellow freshman AJ Griffin helped propel Duke to the win. Griffin scored 22 points and hit all five of his 3-point attempts.
Blue Devils bounce back without Trevor Keels
Duke responded to a Jan. 18 loss at Florida State by knocking off Syracuse 79-59 on Jan. 22 in Coach K’s last time hosting friend and longtime coaching rival Jim Boeheim from Syracuse. The Blue Devils’ next game featured a bit more drama, though. Clemson staged a valiant upset bid before Duke closed strong for a 71-69 victory on Jan. 25 that improved its home winning streak against the Tigers to 20 games. Paolo Banchero led the Blue Devils with 19 points while sophomore center Mark Williams contributed a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Banchero’s made shot with 10 seconds left put Duke up 71-67 and helped cement the outcome. Missing for the second straight game was freshman guard Trevor Keels, who was injured in the Florida State loss. Sophomore point guard Jeremy Roach re-entered the starting lineup in Keels’ place and amassed 18 assists vs. just two turnovers in the wins over Syracuse and Clemson.
FSU honors Coach K and hands Duke a loss
Florida State honored Krzyzewski before the Seminoles hosted the No. 6 Blue Devils on Jan. 18 by announcing a donation to the Emily K Center. The Seminoles’ fans also gave him a pregame standing ovation as he made his final trip to the Donald L. Tucker Center as Duke’s head coach. But the applause and the donation to the philanthropic organization near the Duke campus named in honor of Krzyzewski’s mother were the extent of the pleasantries. Once the ball was tipped, FSU turned tenacious and used a decisive edge in points off turnovers and second-chance points to secure a 79-78 overtime victory. Duke will have a chance for revenge on Feb. 19 at Duke in what could be the last great battle between Coach K and FSU’s own legendary coach Leonard Hamilton.
Coach K out sick
Just hours before a Jan. 12 game at Wake Forest, Duke announced that Krzyzewski would miss the game because of a virus unrelated to COVID-19. In his absence, Jon Scheyer was tabbed acting head coach. Considering that Scheyer is taking over for Krzyzewski after this season, the game set up as a preview of what’s ahead for the program. It brought an encouraging result as the Blue Devils outlasted the Demon Deacons 76-64 behind a combined 46 points from Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin. He returned on Jan. 15 for Duke’s win over NC State as the Blue Devils got a combined 40 points from front court players Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams.
First home loss
The Blue Devils lost 76-74 at home to Miami on Jan. 8. It was their first home loss of the season. A Kameron McGusty jumper put the Hurricanes ahead 75-74 with 20 seconds left, and Duke missed three potential go-ahead shots from there, including a 3-point miss from Trevor Keels as the final buzzer sounded. Coach K pointed to turnovers as a chief issue in the game as the Blue Devils turned it over 17 times, as opposed to Miami which committed just five turnovers.
COVID-19 pause and Devoe drama
Duke began ACC play with a 76-65 home win over Virginia Tech on Dec. 22 but then a speed bump. As much of college basketball dealt with scheduling disruptions due to COVID-19 issues, the Blue Devils were among those hit by the virus. That kept them from playing their second and third league games as scheduled against Clemson and Notre Dame, meaning Duke’s second ACC game didn’t come until Jan. 4 against Georgia Tech.
The pause didn’t seem to bother the Blue Devils too much as they knocked off the Yellow Jackets 69-57 in their first game back. The game featured some extracurricular drama as Krzyzewski and Georgia Tech star Michael Devoe exchanged words late in the second half after Devoe pointed at Coach K and the Duke bench following a basket that prompted a Duke timeout.
“He said ‘you don’t know who you’re talking to,'” Devoe recalled of his exchange with Krzyzewski. “But I was just trying to compete with them. That’s all there was. So I guess he took it the wrong way. But me as a competitor, I want to beat Duke.”
Returning from break
Duke had a two-week hiatus between games spanning the first two weeks of December amid the final exam period for the university. But it returned with a 103-62 win over South Carolina State on Dec. 14 and followed that with a 92-67 victory over Appalachian State on Dec. 16. It was supposed to play Loyola (Maryland) on Dec. 18, but the meeting was canceled because of a COVID-19 issue within the Loyola program. Replacement opponent Cleveland State also had to cancel on Duke because of the same issue, which left the Blue Devils scrambling to find a third potential opponent for the slot. Elon agreed to play on short notice, giving Duke one final tune-up before ACC play.
The wins over South Carolina State and Appalachian State were two of the best games yet for freshman forward AJ Griffin. He made 5 of 9 attempts from 3-point range over those contests to bolster the team’s perimeter shooting outlook after it struggled in that facet during the first month of the season.
Short stay at No. 1
Just one day after rising to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 on the heels of a thrilling win over Gonzaga, Duke dropped a 71-66 decision at Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Buckeyes outscored Duke 41-23 in the second half and roared back from a 15-point deficit behind a 20-point night from sophomore big man Zed Key. Wendell Moore Jr. led the Blue Devils with 17, and Paolo Banchero added 14. But Banchero struggled in the second half, going 0-for-7 from the field in the second half.
Knocking off the Zags, rising to No. 1
Duke improved to 7-0 with an 84-81 win over No. 1 Gonzaga on Nov. 26 in front of a crowd of 20,389 at T-Mobile Arena. It was the largest crowd to ever see a basketball game in Nevada, and they were treated to a thriller. Paolo Banchero scored 20 points in the first half before dealing with cramps in the second half and going quiet. Wendell Moore Jr. picked up the slack by scoring 16 of his 20 points in the second half.
The victory improved Krzyzewski to 7-11 all-time against No. 1 ranked teams, and it catapulted the Blue Devils to No. 1 in the new set of rankings released three days later.
Getting ready for Gonzaga
Duke easily won games against Lafayette and The Citadel on Nov. 19 and Nov. 22 as it prepared to face No. 1 Gonzaga on Nov. 26. The Blue Devils beat Lafayette 88-55 behind a 23-point outing from Wendell Moore Jr. Duke beat The Citadel 107-81 behind a combined 50 points from Moore and Paolo Banchero. There was a scary moment in the Citadel game, when Bulldogs’ coach Duggar Baucom collapsed on the court in the first half. He stayed overnight at Duke University Hospital and was released the afternoon after the game.
DWI charge for grandson
An otherwise sterling start to Krzyzewski’s final season hit a speed bump in the early morning hours of Nov. 14, when Duke walk-on Michael Savarino, who is Krzyzewski’s grandson, was arrested for suspicion of DWI. Complicating matters, Duke star freshman Paolo Banchero was a passenger in the vehicle and was cited for aiding and abetting DWI. But while Savarino was suspended, Banchero was not held out of any game action, as Krzyzewski explained “it’s two different situations.”
“Headlines might make it look like it’s the same,” he said. “It’s not. I think the decisions we made are in conjunction with our authorities, my superiors.”
West Point flashback
Duke played host to Army West Point on Nov. 12 in its home opener as part of the Duke Veterans Day Weekend Showcase. The Blue Devils won 82-56, but the game carried special significance because Army is where Krzyzewski both played and first served as a head coach. Between his four years as a student at Army and five as the coach, Krzyzewski spent nearly a decade of his young adult life in West Point. Army explored his history with the program in a special tribute video released before the game.
Krzyzewski’s final season began on a big stage, with the Blue Devils beating Kentucky at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 9 in the Champions Classic. The venue is one of Krzyzewski’s favorites, and it offered a parting gift to the legendary coach. Krzyzewski is now 34-11 all-time at Madison Square Garden, and that record will remain unchanged unless the Blue Devils end up playing in the NIT, which would be nothing short of a disaster.