When Was the Last Time the Duke Blue Devils Missed the NCAA Tournament?

Over the last four decades (yes, it’s really been that long), Mike Krzyzewski has turned the Duke Blue Devils‘ college basketball program into one of the most successful programs the sport has ever seen. It’s not as if Duke hadn’t had success before Coach K arrived ahead of the 1980-1981 season but the Blue Devils certainly weren’t the iconic team they are today.

It took a few years for Coach K to find his footing in Durham — Duke missed the NCAA Tournament his first three seasons — but once he did, the Blue Devils became an annual threat to win the national title, which the program has won five times in a dozen trips to the Final Four under Krzyzewski’s leadership.

However, Duke certainly hasn’t looked like one of the best teams in the country this season, which has obviously looked a little different given the pandemic, and are in danger of missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a long time.

Coach K has led Duke to 12 Final Four appearances and five national championships

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The 2020-2021 season marks the 41st year that Mike Krzyzewski has been the head coach of the Duke Blue Devils. Remarkably, it’s only the second-longest tenure at one school among active coaches as Jim Boeheim is currently in year 45 at Syracuse.

In his long and storied career at Duke, Coach K has amassed 1,091 wins heading into this Saturday’s matchup with North Carolina. Combined with the 73 wins he compiled during his five-year tenure with Army, he has the most victories of any head coach in Division I history.

In the 40 seasons leading into this one, Coach K has led the Blue Devils to 35 NCAA Tournament appearances (the tourney was cancelled last year due to COVID-19), 12 Final Fours, and five national championships, the most recent following the 2014-2015 season.

The Blue Devils are in danger of missing out on the NCAA Tournament

At 7-6 overall with a 5-4 mark in the ACC, which is good (or bad as the case may be) for seventh in the conference, the Duke Blue Devils are in serious danger of missing out on the NCAA Tournament, assuming the tourney is played anyway.

But of those seven victories, not one can really be counted as notable. Thus far, they’ve defeated Coppin State, Bellarmine, Notre Dame, Boston College, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Clemson. Of those five ACC wins, every team Duke has beaten is below them in the standings, which is why their recent loss to Miami, who is 7-10 overall and 3-9 in the ACC, didn’t help their NCAA Tournament hopes at all.

Simply put, they haven’t yet beaten a good basketball team this season. Now, in a normal year, a loss to Michigan State, which the Blue Devils took early in the season, wouldn’t look so bad. But the Spartans are just 8-7 overall and in second-to-last place in the Big 10 at 2-7. Duke has also lost to Illinois, Virginia Tech, Pitt, and Louisville.

A win against North Carolina this Saturday will certainly help some, although the Tar Heels haven’t been overly impressive this season either, although they’ve played their best basketball of the season recently, which has to be a bit concerning for Coach K and company. Duke still has key games left with Carolina, Louisville, Syracuse, and Virginia and need to win at least a few of those to give themselves a better chance of making the NCAA Tournament, which the Blue Devils haven’t missed in more than a quarter-century.

When was the last time Duke missed the NCAA Tournament?

Mike Krzyzewski Duke Blue Devils
Mike Krzyzewski | Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The last time the Duke Blue Devils missed the NCAA Tournament was the 1994-1995 season, which just happened to be the season Coach K left the team after 12 games to seek treatment for an injured back and exhaustion, which left assistant Pete Gaudet in charge.

Duke went 13-18 overall — the 18 losses are the most by any Blue Devils team in history — and a dismal 2-14 in the ACC.

Stats courtesy of Sports Reference