Duke basketball: Coach K at risk of 1983 flashback

Duke basketball (Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball (Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports) /

Duke basketball may need to fend off three-game sweeps twice in three days.

The last time the Duke basketball program suffered a third defeat to one team in the same season came on March 10, 1995.

That loss was at the hands of Wake Forest, featuring ACC legends Randolph Childress and Tim Duncan. And it happened in ACC Tournament hotspot Greensboro, officially extinguishing the consistently discouraging 1994-95 campaign (13-18) under Mike Krzyzewski’s fill-in at the time, Pete Gaudet.

Of course, the date and scenario of that game are eerily similar to the scheduled March 10 survival effort from the No. 10 seed Blue Devils (12-11, 10-9 ACC) at 6:30 p.m. in Greensboro against No. 7 seed Louisville (13-6, 8-5 ACC), a squad that has already beaten Duke twice this season.

Yup, a dreaded three-headed broom is looming with the group’s NCAA Tournament hopes also clearly facing extinction.

Fortunately for these Blue Devils, they’ll be taking instructions from Coach K rather than the long-retired Gaudet. Plus, although Louisville’s Carlik Jones and Jae’Lyn Withers have posed problems for Duke this season — to the tune of their combined 79 points between the two battles — it’s not as if that pair is as intimidating as the 1994-95 Demon Deacon duo of Childress and Duncan.

One ominous Duke basketball broom memory directly involving Mike Krzyzewski

Incredibly, speaking to Coach K’s unmatched ACC Tournament success over the years — the more often you survive, the more likely you are to square off against an opponent for the third time — the Louisville game will mark the 70th time the Hall of Famer and game’s all-time wins leader has seen one foe on three different occasions in the same Duke basketball season.

Even more remarkable, as the SameronCrazy Twitter account pointed out following the Blue Devils’ 86-51 beatdown of No. 15 seed Boston College in the first round of this ACC Tournament on Tuesday, only twice has Coach K’s Blue Devils fallen in all three meetings with anyone: Virginia in 1982-83 and Wake Forest in 1981-82.

So harkening back to the last time that Mike Krzyzewski himself was on the bench to witness one of his now-41 Duke basketball teams wind up on the wrong side a three-game season sweep, that was at the ACC Tournament 38 years ago, almost again to the day of the current Blue Devils’ Wednesday clash with the Cardinals.

ALSO READ: Ranking the first 40 Duke teams under Coach K

Famously, that L on March 11, 1983, to juggernaut Virginia and the conference’s all-time 7-foot-4 big man, Ralph Sampson, provided an icky feeling — a symptom of the unpleasant scoreboard — that the 36-year-old Coach K and his then-young Blue Devils promised to never forget so as to steer clear from having to experience anything like it ever again:

  • Score: No. 2 seed Virginia 109, No. 7 seed Duke 66
  • Note: Still stands as the most lopsided loss in program history

Four years later, as seniors, “The Class That Saved Coach K” finished 37-3 — ACC Tournament champs to boot — and a few points shy of what would have been Duke basketball’s first national championship (coincidentally with respect to this article, that 1986 title-game heartbreak came versus Louisville).

But let’s return again to the similarities, at least from a Dukie’s perspective, between right now and the quarterfinals of the 1983 ACC Tournament.

Those Blue Devils from yesteryear never played again after that third loss of the season to Virginia and thereby finished their season with only 11 wins (17 losses). Again, that win total would almost match that of these Blue Devils if they don’t manage to overcome this season’s Cardinal issues on Wednesday.

However, should they advance past this round and also topple No. 2 seed Florida State on Thursday, then come Friday, there’s a strong chance Duke would again face No. 6 seed UNC, the bitter rival it has lost to twice already this season by a combined 22 points.

Hot. Predicting Duke basketball's starting five next season. light

With that in mind, it’d be easier — emotionally speaking, anyway — to go ahead and accept the three-game sweep to Louisville if the Blue Devils don’t intend to play better on Friday than they did in a 91-73 home loss to the Tar Heels on Saturday.