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Next Up - Maryland

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In College Park this week, as usual, campus is abuzz over The Duke Game, with one big difference: this might be the last one they have.

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Duke fans have never really understood it. It's always an intense game, never more so than under Gary Williams, who relished the chance to beat Duke, but most of us have never understood the intensity Maryland fans feel about this game.

We got a memorable e-mail several years ago from a Maryland fan - this may have been before the national title even - saying that we couldn't understand the deep inferiority Maryland fans feel.

This from a program which produced John Lucas, Mo Howard, Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, Brad Davis, Buck Williams, Ernie Graham, Keith Gatlin, Steve Shepard, Keith Booth, Walt Williams, Juan Dixon, Steve Blake and the brilliant but doomed Len Bias.

How could a program with that history feel inferior to anyone? It just seems so hard to understand.

And yet in the middle of it was Bias, whose death derailed Maryland basketball for some time.

Yet it wasn't as long as it seemed. Bob Wade's tenure was miserable, in retrospect, but it only lasted three years and he did make the tournament in his second year.

Gary showed up in 1989 and made the NIT in his first year.

Like Coach K, his next few years were a bit rocky, but Maryland had just two losing seasons and by 1993-94, he had turned it around.

Maybe it's the comparisons. When Gary showed up, Duke was rolling through Final Fours and in 91-92, they won back-to-back titles.

When Maryland finally got to the Final Four, in 2001, they ran into Duke - and built up a huge first-half lead.

Duke won by double digits, and left Gary fuming at the officials: "how bad do you want Duke to win!"

This was the last of four games that year, three of them won by Duke, and at least two won because Maryland failed to block out Nate James late. And of course that includes Jason Williams' incredible performance in the Gone in 54 Seconds Game.

That stretch we can understand the irritation, but even the next year's national champs - and what a team it was - never really seemed to salve the wounds.

Well, except for Gary, who was never the same. Happiness just killed him, and eventually fans became disenchanted.

But that's another story.

That's all just background to explain why the atmosphere in Comcast is going to be out of control. It's the perfect hatrd, and the idiots just let it go.

Maryland brings a lot to the court, too, starting with Alex Len. He's been erratic lately, but no one has any doubts about the big man's talent and it could erupt at any time.

Dez Wells has been solid too in his first post-Xavier year.

Maryland has a ton of talent up front aside from those two, though most of it is young: Jake Layman, Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare give Maryland five really talented, young frontcourt players. James Padgett isn't playing as much as he did before, but he is a senior.

The backcourt is talented too, but young and not always productive.

They'll be without Pe'Shon Howard, who is suspended for this game and possibly more. He hasn't had a great year, but he is a junior and that might have been helpful.

Point guard play has been an issue all season. Mark Turgeon has tried Howard, Seth Allen and Nick Faust; none have worked perfectly, a fact underscored by Maryland's 15 turnovers per game.

Maryland's also not shooting well, particularly from outside. Logan Aronhalt is shooting 45.6% from three point range and Seth Allen is shooting about 35%, but that's pretty much it. Dez Wells is around 33.3% but he's not shooting a whole lot from outside, about twice a game.

Where Maryland is playing well is on defense. Turgeon was - like Gary, come to think of it - an undersized guard with a chip on his shoulder, and his team reflects that chippy attitude on defense.

And one other thing to keep in mind: Mitchell, when he wants to be, is a superb rebounder. He's a guy who could jump up and bite Duke.

The thing about a young, talented team like Maryland is that a lot of guys could do that. Go down the list: Layman, Allen, Faust, Cleare, Len, Wells - you just never know.

For Duke, there's a bit of a subtext, aside from the prospective end of the series. Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton are playing at home.

For Cook, in particular, it's a big deal. His original high school was DeMatha, which is very close to College Park, just down U.S. 1, and he knows a lot of the Terps very well. If we recall correctly, he's particularly close to Howard.

Maryland has one other significant advantage in this game: they've had all week to focus on it.

Duke, by contrast, has played on the 7th, the 10th, the 13th and now the 16th, including the awkward trip to BC and the intensity of the UNC game.

Maryland on top of the other three is going to be really demanding.