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Jim Sumner on Duke/Michigan basketball history

Over the past decade Duke-Michigan has been one of the nation's top intersectional basketball rivalries

Over the past decade Duke-Michigan has been one of the nation's top intersectional basketball rivalries. Top teams, great players, and close contests have all captured the imagination of the basketball-watching public. A list of the players who have suited up in the rivalry in recent years would include Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, Trajan Langdon, Elton Brand, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwann Howard, Robert (Tractor) Traylor, and Maurice Taylor. Duke defeated top-ranked Michigan in December of 1992, while Michigan returned the favor in 1997. Michigan defeated Duke 113-108 in overtime in 1989, while Duke edged the Wolverines in overtime 88-85 in 1991, the game which marked the coming out of Michigan's spectacular freshman class. Most memorably, of course, Duke defeated those same Fab Five 71-51 for the 1992 NCAA title, in a game much closer than the final score would suggest. No fewer than 11 players in that game later played in the NBA; Laettner, Hill, Hurley, Brian Davis, Antonio Lang, Cherokee Parks, Webber, Rose, Howard, Jimmy King, and Eric Riley.

What many younger DBR readers may not realize is that Duke and Michigan had an equally hot intersectional rivalry a generation earlier. From 1963 through 1970 the Blue Devils and the Wolverines locked proverbial horns nine times, with Duke winning six. In late 1963, just nine months removed from its first ever appearance in the Final Four, Duke traveled to Ann Arbor for the first meeting between the two schools. Jeff Mullins, Jay Buckley, Hack Tison, Buzzy Harrison and the rest of the Duke players had their heads handed to them, losing by a score of 83-67. Michigan was a powerhouse that year, in more ways than one. All-America forward Cazzie Russell was 6'5", 220 pounds, All-America center Bill Buntin went 6'7", 235, while forward Oliver Darden was 6'8", 240. Several other Michigan players topped 230. In the days before wide-spread weight lifting, this kind of size and skill was virtually unheard of. Buckley and Tison, both about 6'10" but very much on the thin side, were pushed around pretty much the entire contest. Buntin outrebounded Buckley 18-2.

When the two teams next met again, it was March of 1964 and it was in the Final Four. Given what had happened earlier that season, few gave Duke much of chance. Buckley and Tison responded with inspired play, especially Buckley, who scored 25 points and pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds. He made 11 of 16 field goals. The more publicized Buntin was held to 19 points and 9 rebounds, both below his season average. Tison pulled down 13 rebounds, while scoring 12 points. The always reliable Mullins scored 21 points, while guards Harrison and Denny Ferguson added 14 and 12 points respectively. Russell, who was truly a marvelous player, made 13 of 19 shots on the way to a 31-point night. Duke jumped to a 48-39 halftime lead and won convincingly, 91-80. The following night Duke became the answer to a trivia question, becoming the first team to lose a national title game to UCLA.

Duke and Michigan's first meeting in Durham took place in December 1964. With Russell, Buntin, and Darden all returning, the Wolverines were the pre-season favorite to win it all and they showed why. Michigan jumped to a huge second-half lead before Duke came storming back. Although the rally fell short, Michigan winning 86-79, many old-timers think that Cameron (then just the Indoor Stadium) has never been louder than it was when Duke was on a roll late in the game. Duke went to Ann Arbor the following season and gained revenge, with a pulsating 90-83, overtime victory. Duke won handily in 1966 and 1967.

In December, 1968, your writer was an 18-year-old Duke freshman, fully expecting four years of Blue Devil basketball dominance. Duke started off obligingly, defeating Virginia Tech, Alabama, and Princeton to start 3-0 and reach number nine in the polls. In the fourth game, however, a visiting Michigan team, led by Rudy Tomjanovich and Dan Fife, father of Dugan and Dane, came into Cameron and spanked Duke 90-80. The loss started a four-game losing streak and knocked Duke out of the top ten. Although Bucky Waters managed to get Duke back into the bottom part of the top twenty on several occasions, Duke would not see the top ten again until Bill Foster, Mike Gminski, Gene Banks, and Jim Spanarkel. Waters' team did defeat Michigan in 1970 and 1971. The series was then dropped for almost two decades.

Duke leads the series with Michigan by a 14-7 mark. Every contest has been held in December, except for the two Final Four games. Michigan has frequently provided a stern early-season test, one which gives Duke a chance to shine in a national spotlight and find out where they are as a team.