Duke and Syracuse have met before in the NCAA Tournament.
The first time was back in 1966, when the Blue Devils faced the Dave Bing-led ‘Cuse in the East Regional title game in Raleigh’s Reynolds Coliseum.
Bing, a dynamic guard and a first-team All-American, got all the attention. Vic Bubas, with the help of assistant coach Chuck Daley, devised a zone that cut off Bing’s drives and pressured him on the jump shot. The Syracuse star managed just 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
Bespectacled forward Jim Boeheim took up some the slack, scoring 14 (mostly on corner jumpers), but he couldn’t overcome Duke’s Big Three of Jack Marin (22 points), Bob Verga (21 points) and Steve Vacendak (19 points).
Duke won 91-81 in what turned out to be Boeheim’s last game … as a player.
Boeheim has since coached Syracuse for 42 years and will be on the sidelines in Omaha Friday night when Syracuse takes on Duke in the Midwest Regional semifinals.
It’s just the second time that Duke has faced an ACC opponent in an NCAA game – the first being the 2001 NCAA semifinal matchup with Maryland (which was then an ACC rival). That one turned out well as Duke mounted the greatest comeback in Final Four history to defeat the Terps.
Obviously, the earlier meeting with Syracuse was long before the Orange joined the ACC. So was Duke’s 1998 victory over the Orange in the South Regional semifinals in Tampa. Duke has also played Notre Dame twice in NCAA play, Louisville twice and Boston College once – but all before they joined the ACC. Duke also played ex-ACC member South Carolina in last year’s tournament.
The matchup between Mike Krzyzewski and Boeheim should be celebrated. Every time the two Hall of Fame coaches meet, they set a new record for the most combined wins in an NCAA game – K with 1,099 (at the moment) and Boeheim with either 1,027 (his real total) or 925 (his total after 102 games were vacated).
Either way, the two coaches are No. 1 and No. 2 in all-time NCAA victories.
For the record, Krzyzewski has a 5-4 lead in head-to-head matchups with his friend and rival.
PILING UP THE NUMBERS
Krzyzewski is, at this moment, the winningest active coach in NCAA play. Not only does he have the most NCAA Tournament wins of any coach – by a wide margin (his 93 are 16 more than Roy Williams, who has 77). Only five schools have as many wins as Krzyzewski.
He also has the best NCAA winning percentage of any active coach.
UNC’s Williams was hot on his heels after winning 11 NCAA games and losing just one in the last two years. The brought his record to 76-24 (.760) – uncomfortably close to Coach K’s .765 (91-28).
It’s still close, but the first weekend of this year’s tournament allowed K to slightly open the gap. He’s now at 93-28 (.769), while Roy dropped back to 77-25 (.755).
John Calipari, officially 44-15 (.746), and Tom Izzo, at 48-20 (.706), are third and fourth among active coaches.
Since Calipari is still alive in this tournament, he is the only one who could gain on K. But even in a worst case scenario – Kentucky wins it all and Duke loses its next game – Krzyzewski would still have a slight edge -- .762 to .761.
But it would be close.
Worth mentioning is the fact that as a school, Duke is now 110-36 in NCAA play. That’s the third most wins (behind Kentucky and UNC), but it is the best winning percentage of any program -- .753.
POINT GUARD EXCELLENCE
CBS commentator Kenny Smith made an outrageous suggestion last weekend. He argued that if UNC won the title this year, point guard Joel Berry will rank with Duke’s Christian Laettner as the most successful NCAA player of all time.
Of course, Smith is a blatant UNC homer and Duke hater, so it’s hard to take his opinion seriously.
Still, Berry’s resume would have been close to Laettner (had he won again) – two titles and three Final Fours in his first-year career. Laettner would still have had the edge with two titles, and four Final Fours … plus I would argue that he was a more significant player. Still, it would have been close.
Of course, Berry did not lead UNC to a third straight Final Four, but to a second-round flame-out.
He still ranked among the most successful point guards ever in NCAA play. How does he rank? Let’s rank them:
1. Bobby Hurley, Duke – two national titles, three Final Fours and an 18-2 mark in NCAA play.
2. (tie) Chris Duhon, Duke and Joel Berry, UNC – their records are remarkably similar … one national title, two Final Fours and both were 14-3 in NCAA play. Plus, both shared the point guard job their first two years with another guard (Jason Williams at Duke and Marcus Paige at UNC).
4. Ed Cota, UNC – no national titles, but three Final Fours and a 12-4 NCAA record.
5. Grayson Allen, Duke – not really a point guard, but he’s played the position at times for a Duke team that won the national title, one Final Four and a 11-2 NCAA Tournament mark. He would move up the list if the Devils crash the 2018 Final Four or maybe win another title.
Now, understand. This merely measures point guards according to their NCAA success. It’s not rating them as point guards – it leaves out players such as Phil Ford, John Lucas and Chris Corchiani, who were great point guards, but didn’t have a lot of NCAA success.
I also arbitrarily left out Duke’s Tyus Jones, who was 6-0 in NCAA play with one national title (and a Final Four MVP award). And UNC’s Dick Grubar, who was the point guard on three Final Four teams in the late 1960s (but was injured during UNC’s last run in 1969 and didn’t play.
SENIOR CLASS HONORS
The commentators during the Duke-Rhode Island game made the point late in the game that these Rhode Island seniors were the winningest senior class in school history, winning 91 games in their four years.
During Notre Dame’s NIT loss to Penn State, the announcers noted that this class – Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell, Marcus Geben, Angel Torries – is the winningest class in Notre Dame history – with 101 wins.
I just checked and Duke’s senior class – essentially Grayson Allen – has won 115 (so far) in four years.
Of course, Allen started with Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones. And they contributed mightily to the 35 games Duke won in 2015. But Allen has been the only member of his class ever since.
That’s not an exceptionally high total for a Duke class. The top class on the list was recruited in 1997 – Shane Batter, Elton Brand, Chris Burgess and Will Avery. Battier was the only member of that class to last four years, but he accumulated 133 victories.
Actually, Battier played in just 131 games (he missed two with illness as a freshman), but that’s the Duke and ACC record.
Allen has played in 111 of Duke’s 115 victories in his four-year career. That doesn’t crack the school’s top 20 – he needs to get to 115 to tie for 19th (along with Jon Scheyer, Bobby Hurley and Daniel Ewing).