The first of two narrow decisions of this list pits two Vic Bubas squads against each other to determine who the best team of the 1960s was. Both the 1963 and 1966 squads went on to lose in the Final Four and then win the consolation game, garnering the NCAA Third Place trophy (a silver version of the championship trophy). To fully grasp these two teams that competed before most of us were born (my dad wouldn’t enroll at Duke for another 3 years, to put it into perspective) lets take a look at these two teams head to head.
The 1963 Blue Devil squad was a two man show filled with complementary players. However, they were two of the greatest players to ever play at Duke in Jeff Mullins and Art “What the f*** did you say to me, Larry Brown?” Heyman. Throw in 6’10″ Jay Buckley (11 pts, 10 rebs), who could rebound and get the team garbage points, and you have a nucleus of strong, rebounding forwards that can score. And boy did they score. Four of the five Duke starters that year shot better than 50% from the field. The odd man out? Art Heyman at an “abysmal” 48%.
During the 62-63 season, Heyman and Mullins formed the most formidable duo in the country combining for over 45 points and 18 rebounds per game. This was Heyman’s senior year but surprisingly not his statistical peak, which came in his junior season, which was good enough to land him Player of the Year honors and 1st Team All America.
The 1966 squad was led by Jack Marin, a 6’6″ wing coming off a 19 and 10 season, and Bob Verga, the original Duke PG from New Jersey. Steve Vacendak, Mike Lewis and Bob Reidy all played vital roles for the 66 squad as complimentary role players. After the 64-65 season, much was made of Duke’s inability to hit the offensive boards, especially considering the loss of Hack Tison was sure to hurt rebounding even more. In stepped Mike Lewis, who at 6’7″ 225 was the bear in the middle that could create second chances for the high octane Duke offense. Sure enough, in Lewis’ first year, he averaged 11 rebounds a game and propelled Duke to the 1966 Final Four.
Vacendak was the captain of the 66 squad and although he wasn’t the star, statistically out-shined by Marin and Verga, he went on to win ACC Player of the Year that year despite not being placed on 1st team All ACC. Even odder was the fact that Vacendak was little more than a third option on offense and beat out the likes of Marin and Verga as well as Larry Miller and Bob Lewis of UNC.
One important note that I felt shouldn’t be forgotten was this snippet about Vic Bubas and how he ran the Duke program:
Duke has won more games (115), than any other college program in the last 5 years, and when you figure who is going to be the best, you always consider Duke….Once a player gets to Duke, he is fed, counseled and prepared to play basketball as few students are fed, counseled and prepared to do anything anywhere. – Sports Illustrated Dec 06, 1965
Just gonna put this in the simplest form I can
Art Heyman – NPOY, ACC POY, 1st AA, 1st All ACC, ACCT MVP, 1st All ACCT, All East Region, Final Four MVP (despite 3rd place)
Jeff Mullins – AA Hon. Men., 1st All Acc, 1st All ACCT, All East Region
Jay Buckley – Academic AA, 2nd All ACCT
Buzzy Harrison – ACC All Tourney (2nd)
Team – 27-3, Coach of the Year (Bubas), ACC Champions (14-0), Final Four (3rd place)
Jack Marin – 2nd AA, 1st All ACC, 2nd All ACCT, All Final Four Team, All East Region
Bob Verga – 2nd AA, 1st All ACC, 1st All ACCT, East Regional MVP
Steve Vacendak – 2nd All ACC, ACC Player of the Year, 1st All ACCT, All East Region
Mike Lewis – 1st All ACCT
Bob Reidy – 2nd All ACCT
Team – 26-4, Coach of the Year (Bubas), ACC Champions (12-2), Final Four (3rd place)
The 1963 Blue Devils entered the tournament as the #2 team in the country behind only Cincinnati, who was seeking their third consecutive national title. The team drove up to College Park, site of the East Regional, with a banner wrapped around their bus that read “Handle with care. Precious cargo aboard. Next NCAA Champions!” Ever wonder where that Duke bravado was born? Here ya go.
Art Heyman and Co. drew Lou Rossini’s NYU squad who the previous season had decided to start focusing intensely on defense. ”You’d go into a dressing room at half time and all you’d hear the coach talking about was offensive strategy—break fast, when this guy shoots, try for a one-on-one with that guy. This is changing now. Basketball has become a science. Coaches are finding they can’t get along without a detailed knowledge of every aspect of the game. Their teams have to play both offense and defense 100% or they can’t win the big ones any more. So you go into a dressing room at half time this season and chances are you’ll hear defensive talk—stop this pick, make that switch.” Rossini told Sports Illustrated. Bubas’ teams were known for their high paced offense and was sure to meet a tough game against one of the toughest teams in the northeast.
The NYU defense grinded the Blue Devils down in the first half, not letting them pull away and completely slowing down the pace as Bubas entered the half with a 5 point lead and a flustered star. After the break, Duke’s relentless pace forced NYU to play with them. However, NYU hung basket for basket with them and kept the game tight. Heyman struggled, going only 6-21 from the field. Fortunately, Jeff Mullins dropped 25 points and Jay Buckley grabbed 16 rebounds to go with 12 points to lead the Devils to a 5 point victory.
After a comfortable win over St. Joseph’s and Dr. Jack Ramsey, Duke headed to Louisville to take on Loyola of Chicago. John Underwood called the game “race horse basketball in horse race country” and he was right. Unfortunately, the pace wouldn’t help Duke in this game as they fell behind early thanks to cold shooting from Mullins and Heyman (combined 21-50 from the field). Heyman fouled out and Mullins spent most of his time in foul trouble as Loyola blitzed Duke by a score of 94-75.
How good was Heyman? In what was one of the worst games of his career, he still posted a 29 and 12. There simply wasn’t a match up for him on the floor, anywhere in college ball.
Loyola went on to shock Cincy (who had destroyed Oregon St in the other semi, 80-46) in the championship off of a tip in (Cincy fans were so angry, one hit a Loyola fan with a chair, WWE style) after bleeding the final 2:15 from the clock for one final shot.
Duke went on to hand Oregon St (the 1963 parallel to 2010 Butler) its second crushing loss in two days and Art Heyman ended his Duke career on a pedestrian note (by his standards) with a 22 and 7.
Early in the 1965-1966 season, shockwaves were sent through college basketball as the #1 ranked and defending champion UCLA Bruins were upset in their very first game in Pauley Pavillion. To an unranked team, no less. In fact, they weren’t even a recognized squad by the NCAA. They were the Brubabes, the UCLA freshman squad (remember frosh weren’t allowed to play back then) led by 7’1″ Lew Alcindor. This wasn’t your dynastic UCLA squad as Duke went on to beat them on back to back nights early in the season. Remember when teams played each other on back-to-back nights? That would never happen in today’s game. They would eventually finish 18-8.
Duke, however, flourished that year, taking advantage of UCLA’s down year and remained in the top 3 for the majority of the season. In fact, Duke’s three losses came by a total of seven points.
Entering the tournament, Duke was known for its rebounding prowess, its blistering pace, and muscle in the middle. ”We’ll take it inside to win this tournament.” former Duke assistant Chuck Daly said.
Duke snuck past Dr. Jack Ramsey’s St Joseph’s squad with big games from both the in experienced, freshman Mike Lewis chipped in 14 points and 15 rebounds, and the seasoned, senior Jack Marin added 18 points and 15 rebounds.
Against Syracuse in the next round, the forte of the 66 squad once again showed. They rebounded, they pushed the pace and lastly and most importantly to this squad, they got concerted efforts from all involved, having 5 different players score at least 12 points. Verga, Marin, and Vacendak all played 40 minutes as well.
Perhaps this was the birth of the over-used talking point that Duke’s stars get too much burn because they would need all the legs they had to compete with Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky squad.
The 1966 Final Four will forever go down in history because of Texas Western’s historic run and polarizing championship matchup with Rupp’s Kentucky squad. But before they would meet in the title game, they had to play the semi-finals.
The Duke–UK game was a matchup of the top two teams in the country, however, it was a little watered down as both squads had star players contract illnesses the weekend of the Final Four. UK star Larry Conley and Duke star Bob Verga both came down with the flu but Verga’s case was more severe causing him to lose five pounds the week of the Final Four.
UK hit a slump in the middle of the second half and Duke turned an 8 point deficit into a 5 point lead. The transition started when UK big man Thad Jaracz went out with foul trouble. Duke was able to dominate the boards from there and take control. However, when Jaracz was reinserted in the game in the second half, UK started to dominate second chances and took Duke’s away, eventually out rebounding the Blue Devils by 4. Marin finished with 29 points but it was enough to make up for Verga, who struggled going just 2-7 from the field with 4 points, tying his career low and one of only five games in his whole career where he scored in single digits.
Verga bounced back in the consolation game and scored 15 points as Marin dropped in 23 as Duke snuck by Utah to once again claim a third place trophy.
So how do you compare two teams that had the same end result? Essentially it boils down to what do you prefer out of team. Do you want the two headed monster with the best player in the game with so much swagger he made Christian Laettner look like girl scout or do you want the balanced attack with a tough as nails leader, two frantic scorers and a mountain man crashing the boards?
The 63 squad was undoubtedly great but as Heyman and Mullins went, so did Duke. On the other hand, it’s not like that happened very often. The 66 squad was able to sustain losses and still compete with the best in the land. Heck, one of Duke’s all time greats was playing severely ill and had one of the worst games of his career and that team had enough to come within 4 points of defeating Rupp and #1 UK.
So I’m taking 1963 Duke as the #9 ranked team and 1966 Duke as the #8 ranked team.
- 8) 1966 Duke
- 9) 1963 Duke
- 10) 2004 Duke