The top five ‘what if’ Duke basketball seasons of all time

Duke basketball (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /
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Duke basketball
Duke basketball forward Elton Brand (Getty Images) /

1. player. Scouting Report. 37-2 overall. 16-0 ACC. 1998-99 Blue Devils. 434. Pick Analysis


THE RESULT: Lost in National Championship to Connecticut

In 1990, Christian Laettner hit a classic buzzer-beater against UConn in the Elite Eight. It seems the basketball gods took sympathy on the Huskies following that day as Duke has known nothing but March misery to UConn ever since. The 1999 National Championship Game takes the proverbial cake, sadly.

Before we get into who was on that Duke basketball team and who ultimately beat the Blue Devils in the title game, let’s take a collective minute to appreciate the record of this squad. Two losses. All year. Two.

Heading into the title bout against UConn, the Blue Devils hadn’t lost since November 28 to Cincinnati. They were elite in almost any regard, and if you rolled that championship game back 100 times, I bet Duke — a 9.5-point favorite at the tip — wins at least 90 percent of them.

March 29, 1999, was on the latter 10 percent of the spectrum, however, and UConn went on to win the game, 77-74, and capture the program’s first banner. A team of plucky underdogs played the game of their lives and walked away victorious.

Led by Richard Hamilton’s 27 points and Ricky Moore’s defense down the stretch, the Huskies didn’t allow the Blue Devils to end the 90s with a bang. Duke had a lead down the stretch, but Khalid El-Amin hit two free throws to make the score 77-74 with 5.2 seconds left, and we all puke remembering the rest.

Fifth-year senior Trajan Langdon dropped 27 points in that game but had the ball slapped out of his hands, knocking him to the floor, as time expired. You could have argued that Ricky Moore fouled him, but I think Duke’s inability to stop Hamilton led to the Blue Devils being in that late-game situation in the first place.

The 1998-99 squad featured Langdon, ACC and National Player of the Year Elton Brand, now-assistant coach Chris Carrawell, William Avery, and Shane Battier (with freshman Corey Maggette coming off the bench). The Blue Devils were right up there with some of the best teams to ever grace Cameron Indoor Stadium, and they deserved to walk out champions.

Remembering our past is sometimes painful but necessary if Dukies want to learn and grow toward a sixth banner. I enter next season with my heart full of hope, and hope is a feeling I think everyone in the world, Duke diehard or not, could use right about now.

light. Related Story. Ranking all 40 Duke basketball teams under Coach K

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