Over the last three decades, Duke has won five national championships, broke through to nine Final Fours, and appeared in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed on 14 different occasions, all under Mike Krzyzewski. His Blue Devils are synonymous with sustained excellence.
By extension, Krzyzewski himself is the face of that greatness. He's masterminded the rise one of the sport's most marketable teams and won at a high level while doing it. Of Duke's 23 most-winning seasons in program history, he's responsible for ... all 23. (Including all five titles, 12 of the program's 16 Final Four appearances and 12 of its 22 regular-season conference championships. Yes, he really is the GOAT.)
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But which seasons were his best? That's a question I set out to answer, and I came up with eight worthy of inclusion. Not all eight won national titles, as you might have deduced by doing back-of-the-napkin math. But winning a title isn't the only measure to evaluate a team. So while I heavily weighted championship success both in the regular season and postseason -- and all five of Duke's title-winning teams made the list -- I also gave strong consideration to non-title-winning Duke teams who won big but didn't win it all.
Let's get to it. Duke's eight best seasons ever, ranked.
1. 1991-1992 (Won NCAA championship)
This team was sustained greatness defined. A season after winning it all, a large chunk of the core of the 1990-1991 team led the 1991-1992 Duke team to repeat as national champions -- becoming the first repeat winner since 1973 -- while going 34-2 and winning the ACC regular season and postseason tournament.
Christian Laettner was the star of this cast, averaging a career-high 21.5 points per game in his fourth and final season in Durham. He was named the Naismith Player of the Year that season. But his supporting cast -- Thomas Hill, Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley among them -- really helps explain why Duke was as dominant as it was that year. Laettner, Grant Hill, Hurley and Cherokee Parks all went on to be first-round NBA Draft picks.
2. 1998-1999 (Lost in NCAA final)
The Elton Brand-led Duke team of 1998-1999 was historically potent. It went 37-2 on the season, boasted the No. 1 offense in the country, won 32 games (!) by double digits, and didn't lose a game between Dec. 1 and March 29. Its only losses were to Cincinnati in the sixth game of the season (by two points) and to UConn in the national championship game (by three points). This team still stands as the most recent ACC team to post a completely flawless (16-0) mark in ACC play.
Brand won Naismith Player of the Year honors but, like Laettner in 1991-1992, had a cast of stars surrounding him that elevated Duke from good to great in this season. Among those were Trajan Langdon, William Avery, Corey Maggette and Shane Battier, who all went on to be first-round draft picks. Duke won the ACC regular-season title and postseason tournament and claimed a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.
3. 2000-2001 (Won NCAA championship)
That little-used sixth man on the great 1998-1999 team, Shane Battier? By 2000-2001, he was an unstoppable force, winning Naismith Player of the Year honors. And as a result, Duke went on to win the ACC regular-season title, the ACC Tournament title, and the national title.
This was also the Jay Williams breakout season, lest we not forget. As a sophomore, he led the team averaging 21.6 points per game while shooting 42.7% from the 3-point line. Then, he went beast mode in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 25.6 points per game -- including a 34-point explosion in Duke's Sweet 16 win over UCLA. Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Nate James and Chris Duhon also played key roles on this squad.
4. 1985-1986 (Lost in NCAA final)
This team accomplished everything but a natty: an ACC regular-season championship, an ACC Tournament championship, and No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Johnny Dawkins also claimed Naismith Player of the Year honors and led Duke to a program-best 37 wins. But getting to 38 just wasn't in the cards. Duke lost to No. 7 seed Louisville 72-69 in the national championship game after losing the battle on the boards by 15 (!). It was Dawkins' last game in a Duke jersey, and he went out with 24 points, four boards and two steals.
5. 1990-1991 (Won NCAA championship)
This team was nothing if not motivated, especially by its own shortcomings. The Blue Devils were coming off a 1989-1990 season that ended in a gut-wrenching loss to UNLV in the national title game. Then, in the 1990-1991, they lost -- no, got blown out! -- by 22 points in the ACC Tournament to North Carolina just before the NCAA Tournament. But they didn't lose again. They went on to beat UNLV in the national semifinal game and knocked off Kansas in the championship to claim the program's first national title. Christian Laettner led Duke with 18 points in the win over Kansas and Bill McCaffrey, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill combined for 38 points in support.
6. 2009-2010 (Won NCAA championship)
Two of Mike Krzyzewski's assistant coaches -- Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith -- were a part of this great Duke team. With a 35-5 record, the Blue Devils won the ACC regular-season title and postseason title, then went on a mad dash to win the NCAA championship with Smith, Scheyer and Kyle Singler all taking turns as co-stars on the big stage.
Gordon Hayward had a fadeaway from the baseline that could have been the go-ahead for Butler in the title game -- and a prayer from halfcourt that nearly sunk at the buzzer -- but Duke survived and won the program's fourth championship. Do yourself a favor and watch the heart-throbbing final two minutes of that one.
7. 2014-2015 (Won NCAA championship)
Duke didn't win the ACC regular season or conference tournament in 2014-15, so they get dinged a bit on this list, but ... does it even matter? They came out of this season with a natty. They get the last laugh.
After taking four losses in the regular season -- three of which were by double digits -- this team rallied as a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance with double-digit wins in four of its six tournament games en route to the championship. The dagger was a 68-63 win over No. 1 seed Wisconsin led by Tyus Jones, who scored 23 points, and Grayson Allen, who came off the bench to add 16 points.
8. 2005-2006 (Sweet 16)
How could I leave this team off the list? Duke won the ACC, J.J. Redick was a cheat code, Shelden Williams was a force, and Duke was dominant, posting a 32-4 record on the year and earning a No. 1 seed. The season just ended shorter-than-expected in a Sweet 16 loss to LSU in which Redick, who was second in scoring that season in college basketball with 27.4 points per game, was held to 11 points and 3-of-18 shooting.