Prior to Thursday's stunning 23-point demolition of the Blue Devils in Boston, the Villanova Wildcats already held a unique distinction within Duke's storied NCAA tournament history. They had eliminated the Blue Devils from their first-ever NCAA tournament, back in 1955. On March 8 of that year, at Madison Square Garden, Villanova defeated Duke in the first round, 74-73, in what was undoubtedly a very exciting contest.
54 years later, Villanova - much to the astonishment of all observers, including this one - now has title to another entry in Duke's illustrious history:
The Wildcats are now the owners of the second-largest victory over Duke ever, in the NCAA tournament, and the largest in nearly two decades, since the UNLV juggernaut crushed the Blue Devils in the 1990 NCAA championship game, 103-73.
Let's consider the staggering level of success that Duke has had over the decades in the NCAA tournament, now including their 2-1 record and Sweet 16 appearance in the 2009 tournament (thanks, Duke media guide, for all of these attainments conveniently collected in one source):
- Duke has made 33 appearances in the NCAA tournament, and has a remarkable record of success: a record of 88-30 after Thursday's defeat, a winning percentage of .746. That winning percentage is the highest of any program. Ever. Including UCLA.
- Duke has made 14 Final Four appearances, which ranks below only UCLA and North Carolina, which each have 17. (UCLA, of course, won 10 national titles in a 12 year span under the legendary John Wooden.)
- Since 1986, Duke has 10 Final Four appearances, more than anyone else (UNC has eight).
- Duke's five consecutive Final Fours from 1988-92 are more than anyone else, outside of UCLA's 10 straight from 1967-76 under Wooden.
- Duke's 118 NCAA tournament games played rank fifth, behind only Kentucky, UNC, UCLA, and Kansas.
- Duke's 88 NCAA tournament victories rank fourth, behind only Kentucky, UCLA, and UNC.
- Duke's 1,879 total victories overall, rank fourth behind only Kentucky, UNC, and Kansas.
To illustrate, let's look at a partial list of prominent teams, who have defeated Duke in the NCAA tournament over the years, but by lesser (and in most cases, far lesser) margins than Villanova did on Thursday... Of the ten teams listed below, nine of them eventually won the national championship (in some cases, by beating Duke in the title game), and the only one that didn't, lost in the national championship game by one point.
The 2009 Villanova Wildcats defeated Duke in the NCAA tournament by a larger margin than any of the teams listed below.
Of course, this does not establish, or even imply, that this year's Villanova team will win the national championship, or even defeat Pitt on Saturday, or that these Wildcats deserve to be discussed in the same contex,t as nine previous national champions. I'm trying to demonstrate the precisely opposite point. Namely, I've provided this list precisely to show how shocking, stunning, improbable (the adjectives can't really convey the effect) the final score was on Thursday evening.
Due to its incredible history, Duke has had the honor (albeit, often an unpleasant, heartbreaking one) of being eliminated in the NCAA tournament, by some of the greatest teams that the sport has ever produced. And by some act of the basketball gods, Villanova beat the Blue Devils by a wider margin in the NCAA tournament, than all of them, but the 1990 UNLV Runnin' Rebels... How did this happen?
- The 2004 Connecticut Huskies - eventual national champions - a one-point victory in the national semifinal/Final Four.
- The 1999 Connecticut Huskies - a three-point victory in the national championship game.
- The 1998 Kentucky Wildcats - eventual national champions - a two-point victory in the Elite Eight.
- The 1994 Arkansas Razorbacks - a four-point victory in the national championship game.
- The 1989 Seton Hall Pirates - national runners-up - a 17-point victory in the national semifinal/Final Four (the team that lost to Michigan in the final on Rumeal Robinson's free throws.)
- The 1988 Kansas Jayhawks - eventual national champions - a seven-point victory in the national semifinal/Final Four.
- The 1987 Indiana Hoosiers - eventual national champions - a six-point victory in the Sweet 16.
- The 1986 Louisville Cardinals - a three-point victory in the national championship game.
- The 1978 Kentucky Wildcats - a six-point victory in the national championship game.
- The 1964 UCLA Bruins - a 15-point victory in the national championship game.
You can also take a look at the Various Viewpoints on the right sidebar, for their takes...
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