Mercer’s 78-71 upset over Duke should come as little surprise — the Blue Devils’ defense has been terrible all season — but it is still shocking that Mike Krzyzewski’s squad was defeated in the first round.
For all the titles and Final Four appearances, Duke does have a puzzlingly history of dropping early round NCAA tournament games, losing seven first or second-round games since the Blue Devils became a dominant force in the college basketball landscape (following the back-to-back championships in 1991 and 1992).
We present a mini-history of Duke’s worst early round exits:
- No. 3 Duke vs. No. 6 California, Midwest, 1993: A second-round battle between the ascendant Golden Bears, led by Lamond Murray and Jason Kidd, against a team that had won consecutive titles. Though the Blue Devils still had Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill, the freshman Kidd pushed the pace and helped the squad to an 18-point lead late in the second half, and though Duke made a run, two straight three-point bricks by Hurley helped Cal with their upset.
- No. 8 Duke vs. No. 9 Eastern Michigan, Southeast, 1996: Earl Boykins completely thrashed the Blue Devils’ backcourt, scoring ten points in the final several minutes as Duke failed to stay in front of the sub 6-foot future NBA guard. The loss was the first opening round loss for Duke since 1955.
- No. 2 Duke vs. No. 10 Providence, Southeast, 1997: Providence dominated the offensive glass, scoring 20 points on additional possessions. The crucial play was a late leak-out from God Shammgod following a Duke made three that gave PC the ultimate lead.
- No. 6 Duke vs. No. 11 VCU, West, 2007: VCU guard Eric Maynor showed a fair bit of Onions, taking a few dribbles to just beyond the free throw line and canning a two-point field goal.
- No. 2 Duke vs. No. 7 West Virginia, West, 2008: John Beilein had left Morgantown the year before, but Bob Huggins melded his coaching philosophy with Beilein-ball. WVU hit several key threes in the second half, and the Mountaineers dominated Duke on the glass for the second round win.
- No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Lehigh: After being hyped up throughout his career by college hoops junkies, CJ McCollum had his breakout game nationally. The guard scored 30 points in the first round upset.
- No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 Mercer, Midwest, 2014: When Mercer watched Florida Gulf Coast burst through the NCAA tournament’s first weekend last year, coach Bob Hoffman felt his team could have made a similar run. He and his Bears now have that chance.