The Duke Blue Devils are five-time champions after their victory on Monday, and once again, we’re under the shadow of a yearlong national tragedy. But why do we even hate Duke in the first place? I’m sure most warm-blooded Americans have perfectly reasonable reasons for their Dukie hatred. But I have a hunch about one of the reasons they’re so hated: Duke seemed to always sneak into championships during the years that America fell in love with other teams.
Every Duke title came during a time we all seemed to rally behind cooler, nigh-legendary teams. To jog your memory, here are the teams we would have rather seen with titles each year Duke cut down the nets.
1991 – UNLV
This team could have been the team of the 90s. Even with one championship, the UNLV squad represents one of the transcendent squads in college basketball history. They had Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Gran freakin’ Mama Larry Johnson. They epitomized swag and Tarkanian was such a cool sideline figure who let his guys run rampant every game. UNLV entered the 1991 NCAA Tournament undefeated and ready to stand amongst the greatest college teams ever. Then those damn Blue Devils showed up and ruined everything.
Duke didn’t really have a change heading into their Final Four match with UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels had beaten Duke by 4,589 points in the regular season and looked to coast through the Blue Devils. But what everyone forgot was that Christian Laettner sold his soul to the Devil many moons ago in exchange for a great college basketball career. As a result, Duke squeaked by, beating UNLV by two points on their way to a national title. We were robbed of greatness, an undefeated season and stories about Larry Johnson celebrating back-to-back titles.
1992 – Michigan
How could you not love the Fab Five? They revolutionized basketball and popular culture. They helped blend Hip-Hop and sports. They made baggy shorts cool. They rocked the black shoes. They were the 90s. But there’s one problem with their legacy (well, aside from the fact we’re not allowed to acknowledge them officially or something); they never won a national championship. Granted, one of those losses came thanks to the biggest non-Pete Carroll sports blunder of all time. Still. If Webber, Rose, Howard and the gang would have won one title, their importance would have only been magnified. As it stands the Fab Five is my favorite college basketball team Stephen Curry never played for.
So why didn’t they win a title? Because of those pesky Blue Devils. They snuck in and beat up on the freshmen who just weren’t ready for the national championship stage. I still think that Michigan wins eight of 10 games the two teams play. But unfortunately, they only played once. Duke ruined the 90s, didn’t they?
2001 – Michigan State
It’s pretty much accepted that Tom Izzo is basically a god who also coaches. In 2001, Izzo had a chance to go back-to-back after losing his top players Mateen Cleaves and Mo Pete. Filling their spots were Jason Richardson, Charlie Bell, Andre Hutson and Zach Randolph. The Spartans were supposed to repeat and put another notch in Izzo’s belt. But they got destroyed by Arizona in the Final Four and didn’t even get to the Finals to get their dreams crushed by Duke. This was probably the weakest argument of the five teams here, but dammit, we wanted anyone by Duke because by 2001 Duke hatred was a full-on thing that we passed on to our children.
2010 – Butler
We’ve had Cinderella stories seemingly every year in college basketball. Some team or teams make their ways to the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 and we get heart-warming stories up until they’re unceremoniously dumped by the superior teams. The 2010 tourney had a chance to change all that. Butler was the closest thing to a Cinderella team that could have won the championship. Yeah, they were a fifth-seed, but they were still a mid-major and nobody gave them a shot to make it to the final game. The match was a perfect storm of anti-Duke-ness. Butler was the underdog. Butler had a scrappy White kid who’s a gym rat and sneaky quick. And Butler was playing Duke. What more can you ask for?
Well, Butler winning, for one. Instead, we had Duke squeaking by after Gordon Hayward barely missed a half court prayer that would have destroyed Western civilization. And we had to watch Duke shatter even more dreams.
2015 – Kentucky
This is a no-brainer. Kentucky should have had an undefeated season. Everybody had them as locks for at least the championship game. I honestly think that Kentucky would have beaten Duke by 20 in the final game. But you know what happened: a loss in a great game against Wisconsin robbed us all of seeing Kentucky emasculate the evil Blue Devils.