Ten years ago, heck even five years ago, if someone tried to make a comparison between the men’s basketball teams at Wisconsin and Duke, most people would have scoffed at the idea. After all, Duke had a history of national titles, conference championships and first-team All-Americans while Wisconsin, though vastly improved, was largely an unknown quantity on the national scene.
As the teams prepare to meet for the first time in history as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge on Tuesday, the similarities between the teams, especially in recent years, is more credible. Both are led by highly-respected coaches, are fixtures in the NCAA tournament, are regular contenders in their conference races and own two of the best homecourt advantages in the country.
Bo Ryan and Mike Krzyzewski are two of just 17 active Division I coaches with at least 500 career victories. They rank second and third, respectively, among those coaches in career winning percentage. Tuesday’s game will be the first between 500-game winners since Jim Boeheim and Syracuse took on Connecticut, coached by Jim Calhoun, on March 7, 2007.
In conference play, both teams are perennial contenders for their league’s championship. Since Ryan’s first season at Wisconsin, 2001-02, the Badgers’ average finish in the Big Ten race has been 2.17. That is tied for the best in the country (with Florida) among teams that have had the same coach over that span. Duke and Krzyzewski are tied for third on that list at 2.33. The Badgers have won two Big Ten regular-season and one Big Ten tournament title over that span, never finishing lower than fourth in the league. Duke has also won two ACC regular season titles and four ACC tournament crowns. Their lowest conference finish in that span was a tie for sixth last year.
Overall, both teams are legitimate threats to reach the 20-win plateau each season. Over the last five years, since the start of the 2002-03 season, Duke leads the country with 143 wins and an .808 winning percentage. Over that same span, Wisconsin’s winning percentage of .753 is 10th-best in the country and its 128 wins are 14th-best.
UW and Duke are also consistent NCAA tournament participants. They are two of the nine teams in the country that have been in the NCAA tournament in each of the last nine years. Duke has 25 tourney wins over that time, leading to eight Sweet 16 appearances, three Elites Eights and a national title in 2000-01. The Badgers have 12 NCAA tournament victories, three Sweet 16 appearances and two Elite Eights.
Each team has been nearly unbeatable at home over the last six years. Since Ryan took over at UW, the Badgers have the second-best home record in the country, going 96-5 (.950) at the Kohl Center. Over that same time frame, Duke has gone 87-7 (.926) at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the sixth-best home record in the country.
What do all these numbers mean for Tuesday’s showdown? Not much. Devin Harris, Alando Tucker, Mike Wilkinson and many of the Badgers responsible for those numbers will not be on the court for the Badgers and neither will former Blue Devils J.J. Redick, Sheldon Williams and Chris Duhon. However, the players entrusted with prolonging the legacy of both programs will be on display for all to see at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN. Even Dick Vitale will be there, so you know it’s a big deal.