The UCLA dynasty -- seven consecutive NCAA championships and 10 over 12 years -- is without question the greatest achievement in college basketball history. A distant second, many have said, was Duke winning back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992 -- as the culmination of five straight trips to the Final Four.
But a new view of the subject crossed my mind this week as I typed in Duke's name yet again as a projected No. 1 seed for 2004 tournament. Is it harder to earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament or to win it? And what would happen if you added together Duke's mini-dynasties (1986-1994, 1998-2004) in comparison to UCLA's singular run (13 Final Four appearances in 15 years)?
UCLA has 10 national championships from its extended period of greatness and Duke "only" three, so, on the surface, any real comparison of the two programs would seem to be a pointless exercise. However, we should also consider that:
Due to the smaller field at the time, only twice (1975, 1976) did UCLA have to win as many as three NCAA Tournament games to reach the Final Four. Duke needed four wins each for its nine Final Four trips of the Mike Krzyzewski era.
Due to exclusive geographic bracketing, UCLA played only West Region teams prior to the Final Four. And, until 1973, it always met the Midwest Region champion in the national semifinals. This meant UCLA could not face an ACC, Big Ten or SEC team until the title game. The first time UCLA was ever bracketed to face an eastern team in the semifinals (1974), it lost to North Carolina State. Duke, playing in the more "open" 64-team era, faces anyone and everyone.
The NCAA Tournament did not expand to include non-champions of major conferences until 1975, the year of John Wooden's final national championship. Duke has contended with an expanded field throughout its best 15 years.
UCLA's 48-4 tournament elimination record from 1962 to 1976 is peerless. But Duke, at 59-12, has also won at a remarkable rate when the two mini-dynasties are combined. Even discounting first-round games over No. 15 and No. 16 seeds (which the Bruins would never have had a chance to play), the Blue Devils are 46-12. That makes just two fewer NCAA Tournament victories over no worse than equal (and arguably better) competition.
So, taking absolutely nothing away from UCLA and Wooden, it says here that the Krzyzewski era at Duke is anything but a distant second in the all-time college basketball annals. Having earned seven (and counting) No. 1 seeds from the ACC, including five in a row from 1998-2002, one could also argue that Duke has had considerably more regular season success than UCLA did while dominating the weaker Pac-8 of the 1960s and early 1970s.
Finally, and just for fun, let's run two quick lists. They are the Final Four opponents for each program during their respective dynasties.
Again, and with all due respect to UCLA, there are no Drakes on the Duke list. My point is that there are ways to dominate an era that transcend winning the last game. And what the Blue Devils have done under Mike Krzyzewski has been every bit as dominant as what the Bruins did under John Wooden.
Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN.com, ESPN Insider and ESPN Radio. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.