In my three-and-a-half years at Duke, I've witnessed some major changes in the Duke basketball program. After my freshman year, Corey Maggette, Elton Brand and William Avery's departures for the NBA demonstrated that Duke was not immune to the early-exit bug. Last year, Duke once again became the king of college basketball with its 10-point victory over Arizona in the national championship, and soon after, coach Mike Krzyzewski was awarded basketball's highest honor--induction into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
Despite these historic events in my time at Duke, perhaps nothing has been more momentous than the emergence of the Duke-Maryland rivalry this year as college basketball's most anticipated matchup. The only question is: Has Duke-Maryland overtaken Duke-North Carolina as the sport's best rivalry?
Growing up in North Carolina, I always considered the Duke-North Carolina rivalry second to none among college rivalries. Everybody knows the reasons: The two schools are separated by an eight-mile stretch of highway; they both are among the nation's best institutions of higher learning; and their mutual success over the years has led to fierce recruiting wars and even more intense battles on the court.
What made the Duke-UNC rivalry so unique during my childhood is that it not only existed among the members of each institution, but its importance funneled down to everyone in the state. When the Blue Devils would lose to the Tar Heels, I would almost fear coming to school the next day because I knew that friends who didn't root for Duke would ridicule me the second I walked in the door.
In short, to obsessive college basketball fans like myself and even to casual observers around the state, Duke-Carolina was everything. In fact, the mutual enmity that existed between the two groups of fans almost meant that rooting for ABC ("Anybody but Carolina") was just as important as rooting for Duke, and vice-versa for UNC fans.
Not surprisingly, as the games between the two schools remained as hotly contested as each school's ranking in U.S. News and World Report, the students took the rivalry as seriously as the citizens of North Carolina. Despite being labeled as a "whine-and-cheese" crowd, the Dean Dome would always come alive when the much hated Blue Devils entered the arena, and Carolina students would engage in the traditional pranks that always accompanied the rivalry.
The passion at Duke was similar. Cameron Indoor Stadium was and is always loud, but the most incessant and even deafening cheering--or in many cases, booing--was always reserved for the Tar Heels. In addition, the hatred was exhibited in items like "The Daily Tar Hole," The Chronicle's spoof on North Carolina's daily newspaper.
In many respects, very little has changed: Cameron Crazies still tent out for weeks just to gain entrance into the Duke-UNC game, and students from both schools still get pumped up as the next round of the rivalry approaches.
But let's be honest: If you ask any Duke student what game they're most looking forward to this season, in all likelihood, it will not be the Duke-UNC game. It will be the contest between Duke and Maryland, which produced four unforgettable games last season and promises to produce at least three of the same high quality this time around.
Unlike the Duke-North Carolina rivalry, which is fueled by the proximity of the schools and their basketball-loving fan bases, the Duke-Maryland rivalry has gained prominence because members of the two schools actually hate each other, making it more genuine. As much as Duke fans profess to hate Carolina (and I was just as guilty of this during my childhood as anybody), there certainly is a playful nature to the Blue Devil-Tar Heel rivalry. And because both schools have achieved such high excellence in both athletics and academics, a mutual respect between Duke and North Carolina serves as at least an underlying factor.
No such respect exists between Duke and Maryland. Duke students resent the Terrapins because of the way they've embarrassed Duke in Cameron the past two seasons and because of the way their fans have harassed visiting Duke fans and players over the past few seasons. Throwing empty Twinkie wrappers onto the court--as the Crazies did to Georgia Tech's Dennis Scott in the 90s--is a far cry from throwing water bottles and batteries directly at the head of Carlos Boozer's mother.
Likewise, Maryland hates Duke because the Blue Devils have served as the single greatest obstacle to the Terrapins' ultimate goal of a national championship and reigning as kings of the ACC. And of course, the perceived snobbery of Duke as an institution always contributes to feelings of dislike.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Whether the prominence of the Duke-Maryland rivalry can be sustained after this year is far from determined. If the games aren't as competitive this season as they were last year, or if one team advances much further into the postseason, then all of the passion that fermented over the past three years could die down in a heartbeat. In addition, the factor of proximity, which is so important for Duke-North Carolina, could hinder the intensity of the rivalry.
For now, though, as fans of college basketball, it's great that we have two rivalries that we can get really excited about. My North Carolina heritage will always preclude me from saying that any rivalry is more important than Duke-UNC. And no matter how good either Duke and North Carolina will be in the next few years, the rivalry will remain fierce--the same cannot be said for Duke-Maryland if either of those teams falter.
With that being said, however, I couldn't be any more excited than I am now about Thursday night's potential slugfest. Let's hope it lives up to all its expectations as college basketball's most anticipated game.
Craig Saperstein is a Trinity senior and sports editor of The Chronicle.