From Maryland's perspective, the basketball rivalry with Duke was born in the late 1990s when Gary Williams brought the Terps from the bottom of the ACC to the top. During the 2000-01 season — when the teams met four times, including in the ACC tournament and at the Final Four — it was considered the most heated college rivalry in the country.
From Duke's perspective, the rivalry between the Blue Devils and Maryland has been downplayed — if not completely dismissed. According to their fans, who still chant "Not our rivals..." when the Terps show up at Cameron Indoor Stadium, it was never as passionate as the decades-long rivalry with North Carolina because of history and proximity.
According to their coach, it was one of many rivalries for a Duke program considered among the nation's elite for more than a quarter century. Asked about the rivalry a couple of days before the 2001 game at Cameron, Mike Krzyzewski said, "We're rivals with everybody." It became a mantra he would repeat many times over the ensuing years.
But as Maryland begins its long goodbye to the ACC that becomes official in 2014, even Krzyzewski is getting a little nostalgic about a rivalry that for the most part has been one-sided in favor of the Blue Devils. Duke has won the past six meetings by an average of more than 15 points — including an 84-64 drubbing last month in Durham, N.C. — going into Saturday's game at Comcast Center.
"I hate to see Maryland leave," Krzyzewski said Monday. "When [the ACC] started, you had some guys shaking hands and saying, 'We're going to start something special.' Duke, Maryland and a few others were in that room. I hate something that happened 60 years ago, in a few weeks [in November], it's no more. I respect the heck out of Maryland, especially basketball. Terrific coaches like Lefty [Driesell] and Gary [Williams], great players, great games, amazing atmosphere. I'm sorry that it's not going to be there for our conference and for Duke and Maryland anymore."
At least one of Krzyzewski's former players never believed the legendary coach when he refused to acknowledge the Terps as one of Duke's rivals.
"To say that Maryland is not a rival is wrong. Maryland is a rival of Duke's," said ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who played at Duke from 1982 to 1986 and briefly served as an assistant coach there later. "It was a game that everybody got up for without being prodded. It was one of those things that everyone knew had special significance. Denying there's a rivalry is one of the ways to determine there's a rivalry, I think."
Though he has publicly supported Maryland's move to the Big Ten, Williams — now a fundraiser for the school and a special assistant to athletic director Kevin Anderson — understands the economic reality of leaving the ACC. The former coach knows how hard it will be to duplicate the feelings the players, coaches and fans had for Duke and North Carolina.
"I think anyone who has ever coached at Maryland, you were judged on how you did against Carolina and Duke," Williams said. "No other conference has had teams dominate like Duke and Carolina has in the ACC over 50 years. That's what you hear every day that you coached at Maryland, 'Can we beat Duke and North Carolina this year?'"
Bilas credits Williams as the catalyst in helping raise the intensity during a 10-year stretch that began with the 2000-01 season and culminated with the Terps — led by Greivis Vasquez — upsetting then No. 4 Duke at Comcast Center in 2010 to help forge a first-place tie for the ACC regular-season title. It was the last time Maryland beat Duke.
"When Gary was there, Maryland was the only program that was consistently punching back and not just taking punches from Duke and Carolina," Bilas said. "[Maryland] made themselves into big rivals. For tradition, was it Duke-Carolina? No. But you could always tell by television. Television always made a big deal out of it because that was the game everyone wanted to see."
That's not the case this week. When the teams meet Saturday night, what once was a marquee game both in the ACC and around the country has become just another nationally televised matchup that might disrupt some dinner plans given the 6 p.m. start. Though the game has lost much of its buzz outside College Park, the Maryland players and students should get fired up just at the sight of the Blue Devils.
"It's kind of hard on this campus to not know who you're playing. Hopefully by knowing who we're playing, it's going to help us practice better," second-year coach Mark Turgeon said Monday, a day after a disappointing 80-69 loss at home to Virginia. "We've got a great opportunity this week to practice a lot and prepare for the last four weeks of the regular season. … Hopefully we're going to respond. Whether it's good enough to beat Duke, we'll see. But we've got to respond."
Ironically, the rivalry revved up with one of the most painful defeats in Williams' 22 years at Maryland. It happened the night before the Ravens beat the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, when the Terps blew a 10-point lead against Duke in the final minute of regulation after point guard Steve Blake fouled out and Maryland lost in overtime. Williams went to Tampa the next day at good friend Steve Bisciotti's urging.
The Terps won the rematch in Durham, but lost to Duke on a tip-in by Maryland native Nate James with a few seconds left at the ACC tournament in Greenboro and then in the NCAA semifinals in Minneapolis. Williams said recently that the Final Four loss to Duke — when the Terps held a 22-point lead during the first half — was the toughest of his coaching career.
"Even though they beat us three times, they were all great games," Williams said. "The good thing for me is that [when] I came to Maryland, the only way we could be considered a good program is if we could stay competitive with Duke and Carolina, but specifically Duke. … The problem became to me is when in a lot of people's minds, the Duke and Carolina games were the only ones that mattered. Those games became so big that it wasn't the same playing against those teams. It was a shame."
Said Krzyzewski: "Those are moments in time that were the highlights of a college basketball season nationally, and they happened within your own conference. They really helped our conference. It helped both programs. For us, I never want to get into where it was just one game for a rivalry. Pretty much everybody was and still are trying to give us their best shot. Saying that, Maryland was terrific. In those four games [in 2000-01] you might have had the two best teams in the country playing."
Turgeon began to get a sense of the rivalry last season, when the Terps hosted the Blue Devils on the night the court at Comcast Center was officially named after his predecessor. The undermanned Terps played one of their best games of the season before running out of steam in a 74-61 loss.
Turgeon has an even better idea of how big it is on the Maryland campus this week.
"I think this is another level. It's above North Carolina, it's above everybody else," Turgeon said. "It's another level for our fans and our players and our coaches. I think it's that way for Duke everywhere they go, but we're well aware of what this game means to everybody."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun