COLLEGE PARK -- The Maryland-Duke rivalry has had more hyped games in recent years than the one being played tonight at Comcast Center. Unlike some previous meetings, which featured two highly ranked teams, tonight just the Blue Devils, at No. 4, have a national ranking.
The rivalry has had more celebrated individual matchups than those between the stars of this season's respective teams, simply because none of those involved in the first matchup of 2007-08 has achieved the rock-star status of some of their predecessors.
But the atmosphere that will build from the moment the Maryland students start to take their seats near courtside, to the time when the Duke players begin warming up, through the opening tip and for however long the Terps remain competitive, hasn't changed.
It has been building for more than a week, since unranked and unrankled Maryland upset then-No. 1 and unbeaten North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 82-80, on Jan. 19.
"A lot of people say, 'If you don't go to the NCAA tournament, you don't win another game, you've got to beat Duke,'" Maryland senior center Bambale Osby said Friday. "Obviously we don't think like that. It's a pretty big deal."
For Maryland coach Gary Williams, the rivalry is judged strictly on wins and losses.
"There was no rivalry with anybody my first four years here because we couldn't beat the good teams," Williams said. "But we've been able to be competitive, so there's rivalries."
After Williams returned to his alma mater, the Terps dropped 12 straight games to the Blue Devils over five seasons, finally ending the losing streak with a 74-72 win at Cole Field House on Jan. 28, 1995.
Recently, Maryland has been the dominant team, winning both games last season and five of the past seven, including the 2004 ACC tournament championship game in Greensboro, N.C.
Not that anyone outside the Baltimore-Washington corridor knows that.
"If you ask somebody in Kansas to name the top five college teams of the [past] 50 years, they'd say Duke and North Carolina," Williams said. "If you took us away from those teams, you'd say, 'Wow, Maryland's been really successful.' But you're always compared to those two teams. You have to make sure your players understand that we can be good enough to win in those situations."
Williams got that point across eight days ago against North Carolina and hopes to have reached his players similarly in practice the past few days.
"Everyone says you learn a lot from a loss. I think you learn more from wins," Williams said. "You want your players to know why you were successful against North Carolina. It's concrete. It's done. And it worked. Whatever we did worked."
Yet what worked against the Tar Heels might not work against the Blue Devils. Osby, who scored his first game-winning basket against North Carolina, likened Duke to the two teams the Terps played in last year's NCAA tournament.
"It will be a different type of game, more a Davidson or Butler type of game," Osby said. "It'll have some difficulties just because they shoot so many threes and there's not a traditional post player. It will be interesting, to say the least."
With Duke, it usually is.