- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Prime time with Dickie V. Tickets drawing $200 bids on EBay. The student section overflowing hours beforehand.

Welcome to the best rivalry in college basketball as No.1 Duke (14-1, 4-0 ACC) visits Maryland (10-4, 1-2) tonight at Comcast Center.

The biannual matchup has become a series of instant classics. A 10-point lead vanishing in the final minute. A steal capping an upset. Duke twice losing as the nation’s top-ranked team. Final Four and ACC championship matchups. And that’s just the last four years.

“There have been some wild games,” Terrapins coach Gary Williams said. “If you ask people to name the top five programs in the country over the last 50 years, Duke and North Carolina are on everybody’s ballot, so that makes it a great game when people see somebody else gets in there and competes with them.”

Maryland has done more than compete with Duke. The Terps knocked off the top-ranked Blue Devils the last two years at home. Indeed, Maryland added to its history as a giant-killer after defeating Florida earlier this season for its ninth all-time win against a No. 1 team — one fewer than North Carolina and UCLA.

Redskins-Cowboys games are mild disputes compared to Maryland-Duke. Maryland students wear T-shirts with unprintable Duke sayings months before the teams meet. The signs in the stands can’t be repeated. Neither can the language. It’s the same way in Durham, N.C., where Cameron Indoor Stadium is a blue wave of bluebloods trying to intimidate the Terps. Maryland counters with its newly formed “Red Army” of 4,000 courtside students. No wonder former Terps center Buck Williams called it “the Civil War without guns.”

“I’m 64 and I act 12 with games like this,” said ESPN announcer Dick Vitale, who will work the game, the crowd and the viewers. “It brings out the little kid in me. How many people would give anything to rush from work to get in there to be part of it?

“It’s become such a key rivalry because it has been such super teams. Gary Williams has become a potential Hall of Famer, and [Duke coach] Mike Krzyzewski is already enshrined. It’s a classic coaching matchup, and the crowd really gets into it. The Red Army will be going bananas.”

Terps fans old enough to remember Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon may consider North Carolina the bigger nemesis. Incoming coach Lefty Driesell saw the Tar Heels as the leading obstacle toward become the “UCLA of the East.”

Duke was an afterthought while Maryland won seven straight and 13 of 18 along Tobacco Road until the Blue Devils emerged under coach Bill Foster to beat the Terps three times en route to the 1978 national final. Maryland became the underdog in the 1990s while Duke dominated the ACC. The Blue Devils ended the Terps’ first Final Four appearance in 2001 after taking their ACC tournament semifinal by a basket.

Duke is No.1 for the seventh straight season, second only to UCLA’s 12 consecutive seasons from 1964 to 1975. The Blue Devils think being top-ranked is so natural that even Duke’s women’s team is No.1.

“Being No.1 is very important to us, and we actually earned it — it wasn’t just given to us,” Duke guard Chris Duhon told reporters Monday. “This team has matured, and right now we feel we are the best in the country, but we know we have a bigger target than usual on our backs.”

But the Terps are the ones who are targeted as Duke seeks redemption for those two losses at College Park, including last year’s 87-72 Terps victory that draw ESPN’s largest viewership of the season.

“We haven’t really played well there the last couple of years,” Duhon said, “and they knocked us off as No.1 so we’re excited to go up there and play against them as a No.1. And they didn’t really see the real Duke last year.”

The Blue Devils are threatening to win their sixth straight ACC tournament with a team that can score from anywhere on the court, block shots with the best and range in experience from senior Duhon to perhaps the ACC’s top rookie in guard Luol Deng. The conference race was supposed to be a photofinish. Instead, Duke may turn it into a runaway.

“I said before the season the league is really even this year, and all of a sudden there’s Duke out there,” Williams said.

Williams’ pregame folder of Duke data dates back to his first encounter in 1984 as Boston College’s coach. Ultimately, he has learned not to invest too much emotionally because a rematch and another 12 ACC games remain.

“Win or lose, we have to get ready for Clemson [on Sunday],” he said.

But a victory would sure make the week go by quicker.

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