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Duke Has Been On A Notable Hot Streak Going Into The NCAA Tournament

And it’s not the first time

NCAA Basketball: ACC Championship Duke vs Virginia
Mar 11, 2023; Greensboro, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach Jon Scheyer holds up the net after the Blue Devils win the Championship of the ACC Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Duke is among the hottest teams in the country entering the 2023 NCAA tournament, where it faces Oral Roberts, winner of 17 straight.

The Blue Devils have won 9 in a row since an officiating error robbed them of a chance at victory at the end of regulation at Charlotteville, where they lost in overtime. (If you believe in such things, this evened the cosmic score for an officiating error at Charlottesville in 1997, also acknowledged by the ACC, that cost UVa a win over Duke.)

Superstitious fans, confronted with a long winning streak by a favored team, prefer a stumble before postseason based on the premise too much prosperity is dangerous, given that all good things come to an end, usually at the worst possible time. Like during the NCAA tournament, where a single loss gives fresh meaning to one and done.

This notion of defensive defeat was bandied about a good deal from the mid-70s through the early 1990s as North Carolina, then the ACC’s dominant program, regularly got off to good starts in the regular season. Media members and skeptical fans began theorizing that Dean Smith, a master of psychological maneuvers on and off the court, purposely lost a game or two to lessen the pressure on his streaking teams.

Absurd, given the man’s competitiveness, but an actual topic of discussion.

Now, as it confronts NCAA competition, a young Duke squad is enjoying the program’s best winning streak entering postseason play since the school’s great team of 1999. One can expect players to get questions about the pressure of keeping their run of victories intact, especially now that only six games stand between them and a national title.

The ’23 team already is exceptional in Duke annals. For all of the 17 Final Four appearances in school history, and 45 NCAA bids overall, only three previous groups of Blue Devils went to the NCAAs riding a longer winning streak through regular season and ACC Tournament competition – in 1999 (27), 1963 (18) and 1986 (16).

All three of those streaking squads reached the Final Four. Probably best not to mention that all failed to win the national championship. The 1963 Devils actually played after they lost to Loyola, the eventual NCAA champion, winning the now-defunct third-place game against Oregon State.

In fact all five previous Duke squads that entered the NCAAs on streaks of at least six victories advanced to the Final Four or beyond.

Loyola, by the way, had four Black starters when it took the ’63 title against top-ranked, two-time defending champion Cincinnati, with its three Black starters. Both teams broke new ground racially in NCAA title competition with majority-Black starting lineups. (Belying stereotypes, Loyola committed only 3 turnovers in the championship contest.)

But most historical accounts give the credit for legitimatizing Black basketball acumen to disciplined Texas Western (Texas-El Paso today). The Miners had an all-Black starting five when they won the championship, stunning top-ranked and all-white Kentucky on March 19, 1966 at Cole Field House in College Park, Md.

Longest Duke Winning Streaks Entering NCAA Competition
Year Run NCAA Ws End of Run Coach Lost To Final Record
1999 27 5 Title Game Mike Krzyzewski UConn 37-2
1963 18 2 Final Four Vic Bubas Loyola-Ill. 27-3
1986 16 5 Title Game Mike Krzyzewski Louisville 37-2
2023 9 TBD TBD Jon Scheyer TBD TBD (26-8)
1992 7 6 Champion Mike Krzyzewski No one 34-2
1964 6 3 Title Game Vic Bubas UCLA 26-5
2000 5 2 Sweet 16 Mike Krzyzewski Florida 29-5
1988 4 4 Final Four Mike Krzyzewski Kansas 28-7
2001 4 6 Champion Mike Krzyzewski No one 35-4
2002 4 2 Sweet 16 Mike Krzyzewski Indiana 31-4
2010 4 6 Champion Mike Krzyzewski No one 35-5
1978 3 4 Title Game Bill Foster Kentucky 27-7
2019 3 3 Elite 8 Mike Krzyzewski Mich. St. 32-6