It's that time of year again. Row upon row of tents fill Krzyzewskiville, packed with Cameron Crazies preparing their face paint and clever chants to heckle the despised opposition, pumped for one of the biggest games of the season.
What, Duke's playing North Carolina in December?
Not quite. The Blue Devils host Michigan on Sunday afternoon, and while it will never equal the rivalry with the Tar Heels-"Go to hell Michigan" just doesn't have the same ring to it-the annual clash with the Wolverines has become one of the most anticipated for Duke fans.
"It's just been built up so much by the media that it takes on a whole new meaning," Duke junior guard Steve Wojciechowski said. "It's almost like a conference game. It's unbelievable."
It all started on December 9, 1989, when the two schools matched up in Ann Arbor, beginning a home-and-home series that has continued each year since.
"From the first time we played them [in 1989], the series has just had terrific college basketball games," Duke associate coach Tommy Amaker said. "Both teams have great tradition, so it was just a natural fit."
One could argue, though, that the series truly became a heated rivalry in the 1992 national championship game. The Blue Devils would capture their second straight title, downing Michigan and its all-freshman starting lineup 71-51. In the days leading up to both that contest and the one at Duke the following December, several members of the Fab Five commented on how they weren't all that impressed by Duke, which only served to rile up the Blue Devils and spark them toward victory.
In fact, Duke wins have been the norm for much of the series, now in its eighth year. Michigan took the first game in 1989, 113-108 in overtime, but the Blue Devils went on to capture the next six matchups. The Wolverines finally broke into the win column last season, defeating Duke in Ann Arbor, 88-84.
Fans will probably be treated to another tight game this year. Other than the national championship matchup, the largest margin of victory for either team has been 11 points.
The last couple of years have been relatively disappointing for both schools: in 1995-96, although each began ranked in the top 25, both fell out by the end of the season, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But the two teams come into Sunday's showdown back in the top 10, and while they might not have the name players who faced off in the 1992 finals, both programs have reloaded and feature deep, talented rosters.
"Between the national championship game, and then with some of the best players in college basketball, like the Fab Five, there's been a little bit of everything," Amaker said. "There's not much more you can ask of two programs going head to head. It should be a tremendous, fun game."
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