Following a season that featured four sensational games, Duke-Maryland has emerged as the hottest rivalry in college basketball. This past Thursday night, the two Atlantic Coast Conference foes clashed at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. It was yet another thrilling contest that witnessed more than 30 lead changes before the Blue Devils finally pulled away late in the second half, securing a 99-78 victory.Last season, Duke and Maryland squared off four times ? twice in the regular season, in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament and then in the Final Four. Each match-up was a fight to the finish and two of the games even achieved ESPN “Instant Classic” status. The Terps held double-digit leads in all four games last season, but had only one win to show for it.The first game, which took place at Maryland’s Cole Field House, is etched into the memories of both Duke and Maryland fans alike. Up 10 points with less than a minute remaining in the game, Terp players and fans were all ready to storm the court in celebration, confident they had a win wrapped up. But All-American point guard Jason Williams went on to score eight points in 14 seconds as Duke rallied to tie the game, and eventually win 98-96 in overtime.In the return regular season meeting, no one but the Maryland players and coaches expected they could bounce back from the prior heart breaker. But, behind 28 points from guard Juan Dixon, Maryland beat Duke 91-80 at Cameron, ruining national player of the year Shane Battier’s senior night in the process.By the time the schools met again in the ACC Tournament semifinals, the entire country had caught the fever and tuned into the game, which saw 11 tie scores and 18 lead changes. A last second tip in by then-senior forward Nate James gave Duke a slim 84-82 victory only after a half-court jumper at the buzzer from Dixon bounced off the rim.The final meeting last season took place at the NCAA Final Four. After exploding out of the gate and seizing an early 22-point first half lead, Maryland let the game slip away. Duke showed the heart and courage that made it a championship team and came back in dramatic fashion to send the Terps packing early for College Park, running away with the victory 95-84.In recent history, the annual Duke-North Carolina match-ups have been the most anticipated contests of the college basketball season. Yet with the Tarheels down this season (1-4 ACC, 5-10 overall) the games will not feature the same conference title implications that they have in past years. The teams meet for the first time Jan. 31 in Chapel Hill, when it is expected that a young and inexperienced North Carolina squad will not put up much of a fight against the loaded Blue Devils.Another sign that the Duke-Maryland rivalry has, at least temporarily, replaced the Duke-North Carolina rivalry in college basketball, is the fact that last Thursday’s game in Durham drew ESPN’s largest viewing audience ever for a regular season college basketball game. The game, which posted a 3.46 cable rating, was seen by nearly three million homes.Because the teams square off so regularly, there is a certain familiarity between the players and coaches. So much so that when one team calls out a play, the other knows exactly what they are running. While neither team comes into battle intimidated, both programs do hold a great deal of respect for one another. From the intense mental war fought on the sidelines between Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Maryland coach Gary Williams, to the numerous stellar on-court match-ups such as point guards Williams vs. Steve Blake, wing guards Dixon vs. Mike Dunleavy and centers Lonny Baxter vs. Carlos Boozer, Duke-Maryland is college basketball at its purest.After the final buzzer sounded in the Terps’ ACC Tournament loss last season, Dixon and Williams greeted each other at mid-court and briefly exchanged words.After suffering a harsh defeat at the hands of Duke, Dixon embraced Williams and admitted to the fellow All-ACC guard that he brings out the best in him. Williams, trying to console his heartbroken adversary, acknowledged that Dixon brings out the best in him as well. This is what makes the new Duke-Maryland rivalry so special ? the players and coaches who drive one another to reach new levels of excellence and unleash a competitive fire within their opponent. The insanely passionate fans who pack into their school’s home arena to yell and scream, and live and die with their team.The Duke-Maryland series plays out in a war of sweat, blood, high hopes and heartbreaks. But in the end, a “moral victory” just won’t cut it, which makes coming away with a win seem more like fighting for dear life. So far this year Duke’s up 1-0 while both teams work through the ACC schedule eagerly awaiting a rematch at Cole on Feb. 17.Gerton can be reached at

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