I had the good fortune to be on Tobacco Road for most of this week -- first to see North Carolina and Duke, then to watch NC State and Wake Forest.
Duke and North Carolina play two of the most anticipated, debated and analyzed games of the year, every year, and the Duke-Carolina rivalry is considered by many to be the greatest of them all.
(Voice from College Park: "Yeah, yeah, yeah ... please tell us even more about Dook and Carolina. What about Maryland?! We're the defending ACC Champs for crying out loud!! Have you seen the Terps and Duke play lately? We're the ones that have been filling up your 'Instant Classic' programming for the last five years!! Throw us a bone here, will ya?!!")
The passion surrounding a Duke-Carolina game is incredible. Unless you live in ACC country, it is hard to imagine how much build-up there is for these games. The fans are passionate and the temperature is always at fever levels. The Cameron Crazies provide the best atmosphere in college basketball. It is truly special.
(Voice from College Park: "Oh, yeah, tell us again how much Tobacco Road cares about the games. What, do you think we don't care?! Have you seen our games? Our fans are just as loud as those geeks from Duke, and we have high SAT scores, too! Heck, we duped the Cameron Crazies into a phony cheer a couple of weeks ago! If they had done that to us, it would have led SportsCenter!!")
The coaches are both Hall of Famers, with Roy Williams being a sure-fire future Springfield fixture and Mike Krzyzewski is already there. You can't have two better coaches in such a big-time game.
(Voice from College Park: "Roy??!! He's not even the best Williams in the ACC!! Are you insane? Only one Williams has held aloft the national championship trophy, and that is Gary!! Okay, he sweats a little, but he can coach with anyone!! Get with THE program!! Fear the Turtle!!")
OK, I get it. I get it.
Luckily, I get to wrap up this week in College Park for Duke and Maryland.
The Devils-Terps rivalry is longstanding, but it has become rancorous over the last six years. It has become one of the most venomous battles -- both on the court and in the stands -- in sports.
It is different from Duke and Carolina -- this one has become downright nasty. There is loathing in this one. Some think that makes it better. I think it adds an unseemly element to it. I think the rancor takes away from what makes the rivalry great.
Just going back to the seventies, the rivalry has had great players on the floor and great coaches on the sidelines. Lefty Driesell (a Duke graduate) had stars like John Lucas, Buck Williams, Albert King, Len Elmore and more, while Bill Foster had Mike Gminski, Jim Spanarkel and Gene Banks. It was heated then, with Duke and Maryland often meeting up for the ACC Tournament title, but it was never this heated.
When Krzyzewski came to Duke, he had Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, and Tommy Amaker, and Driesell had Len Bias, Ben Coleman, and Adrian Branch. Maryland beat Duke in the 1984 ACC Tournament final to give the Terps their first-ever ACC Championship. Still, it was not as heated as it is right now.
The Duke-Maryland rivalry is so vicious now in large measure because of the incredible success of Gary Williams. He fought tooth and nail to resurrect the Terps program from the ashes, after sanctions, probation and a television ban that would have buried most programs for years (and caused most coaches to bolt for easier tasks). Williams stayed, and made Maryland into a powerhouse, going to the Final Four in 2001, and winning it all in 2002. The Maryland program has never been better, and no Maryland coach has ever been better.
Williams is a Hall of Famer, but Maryland fans think he is overshadowed, underappreciated, and is never given the credit he deserves. Maryland, over the last six years, has been Duke's equal as arguably the best program in the ACC. But Maryland fans believe that the Terps are treated as second-class citizens.
Maryland fans hear nothing but Tobacco Road. The ACC headquarters are North Carolina, and decisions are made with Duke, Carolina, Wake and NC State within shouting distance of the Commissioner's office. With rare exception, the ACC Tournament is always in North Carolina, and Maryland has always felt like a bit of an outsider. Fair or unfair, right or wrong, Maryland has felt ignored, mistreated, and undervalued.
Case in point: When Roy Williams left Kansas to come back to Carolina, all of the talk ( and I mean ALL of the talk) around the ACC was about the new rivalry between Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, and how it would be the best in the country.
Gary Williams was virtually unnoticed. Gary's record, like Roy's, is absolutely remarkable, and he has beaten Krzyzewski more often than has Roy. Gary has beaten Duke in the regular season, in the ACC Tournament final, and in the NCAA Tournament. But Maryland fans perceive that he doesn't get the credit for it.
Duke fans have grown to loathe Maryland as well. Maryland does not fear Duke on the floor, and they challenge the Blue Devils in a way that no other program seems to right now. Maryland truly competes with, and against, Duke like no other.
Duke fans think that Maryland has an inferiority complex. Maryland fans think that Duke has a superiority complex. Duke fans think that Maryland fans are boorish. Maryland fans think that Duke fans are smug. There is no end to the things over which Duke fans and Maryland fans can abhor each other.
The manner in which the fans of both schools have come to despise each other is of a different tone than in the Duke-Carolina rivalry. The word "hate" comes up way too much in the Duke-Maryland game, and that needs to stop. Too many Duke fans say that they "hate" Maryland. Too many Maryland fans say that they "hate" Duke.
The bottom line is this: Duke is a great program, worthy of admiration. It has one of the game's great coaches, and is an annual contender for national honors. Duke has great players and the Blue Devils play hard all of the time. For that, they should respected.
Maryland is also a great program, worthy of admiration. It also has one of the game's great coaches, and is an annual contender for national honors. Maryland has great players and the Terps play hard all of the time. For that, they should respected.
It is okay for programs, teams, players and coaches to challenge each other, and play like their lives depend on it for those 40 minutes. It is okay for fans to cheer for their teams, and to feel like they are living and dying on each possession. That is what makes competition in the ACC so great.
However, it is not okay to take it too far and, at times, this rivalry has gone too far. Sadly, it is the fans, not the players, that have done that. While both sides feel that it is the other side that has made this rivalry too venomous, both sides need to dial it down a notch.
Let the players play, and enjoy a rivalry that is the equal of any other on the court. Crow at each other and brag about your guys, but do it with the respect that each program has earned, and do it with good nature. Both programs, both coaches, and all of the players, past and present, have earned that respect. The Duke-Maryland rivalry was built on quality of play, success and true passion, not on hate.
No matter what the rivalry, everyone involved should "love to win" and "hate to lose," but never "hate the opponent". The game deserves better than that.
Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, is a regular contributor to Insider.