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Paranoia Will Destroy Ya

Maryland's big post ACC-problem

Mark Turgeon needs to work on his game face.
Mark Turgeon needs to work on his game face.
Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE

As things wound down to the last regular season game between Duke and Maryland, the Maryland media throng has tried to place the "rivalry" in a bigger context, with the Washington Post in particular pointing out that Duke and Maryland have played basketball for decades before the ACC was formed. We didn't link to it, but the paper actually reprinted (photographically) a 1930s story about a game between the two in order to further the idea that it was a long-standing thing, but that's revisionist clap trap.

After the game, the Post ran this headline: Maryland-Duke postgame: In losing heartbreaker, Terps close a rivalry ‘second to none’

Only people who live near College Park believe that.

Where was Maryland in the 1960s? Obsessing over Duke? Hardly.

The 1970s? For mighty Maryland, also-ran Duke was an afterthought. But still, one of the top five games in Cameron in the 1970s was when Duke upset Maryland in John Lucas's senior year, when it seemed absolutely impossible (it's not that important, but it just occurred to us that Maryland produced possibly the two most infamous cokeheads in basketball history).

But after that, there was no noticeable intensity until the 1978 ACC Tournament, and even then it was to an extent a byproduct of the media manufactured rivalry between Gene Banks and Albert King who were said to be rivals for the best freshman in their class (some guy named Johnson who had the ludicrous idea of being a 6-9 point guard ended up being the best). And even then, Banks and Ernie Graham made the cover, not King.

There was a bit of irritation in 1980, when Maryland fans felt Kenny Dennard undercut Buck Williams at the end of the ACC title game, but as Dennard has often pointed out, he didn't move under Williams and therefore could not have undercut him.

Maryland won the ACC Tournament in 1984, beating Duke 74-62. We don't recall anyone jumping up and down and proclaiming a great rivalry. It was just ACC basketball. Lefty Driesell was, naturally, much more focused on UNC and NC State, as the two programs were hugely successful, both having recently won national titles.

When it really started for Maryland was after 1986, when two things intersected: Mike Krzyzewski's first great team and the self-inflicted death of Len Bias.

Just as Duke shot into the stratosphere, Maryland fell into the abyss. Bob Wade, a high school coach who assumed the job post-Bias, managed just a .419 winning percentage and worse, landed Maryland on probation.

Gary Williams came in and really had some tough times in his first five years, but still got solid results. His third and fourth years, under probation and with the Bias gloom still over College Park, were losing seasons. Otherwise, though, he built a solid program.

But this has always been what we've thought about Gary.

He always struck as a lonely man who tended to feel picked on. Much like Art Heyman's astute analysis of Larry Brown ("he's only happy when he's sad"), Williams did best when he felt like he and his team were being screwed or not respected, which was basically always in his worldview. Duke and UNC got top-shelf talent? Gary went out and got less celebrated players and was competitive anyway.

Williams at one point alluded to his unhappy childhood by saying that he could always take a basketball and go outside and leave it all behind.

But we always felt that he had to be angry to maintain his edge, and more than that, that he was best when he felt  slighted.

Williams tied the Maryland experience together perfectly: frustrated by the long-term dominance of Duke and UNC, he both fought back ferociously and simultaneously reinforced the paranoia of the fan base.

Yes, he seemed to be telling them, we do get screwed. It is a North Carolina/Tobacco Road thing and we'll never get a fair shake in the ACC. But we'll fight the bastards! If we go down, we're going down swinging!

The coach and fans were perfectly matched, and from 1994 until 2002-03, Maryland was humming. The Terps finished 1st (tied), 4th, 4th (tied both years), 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 1st, and 2nd (tied).

But in 2002 a great and terrible thing happened: Maryland succeeded. The Terps actually won the national championship.

Who could ever forget Gary Williams on the podium, hair ruffled, obviously happy beyond words. All his dreams had come true. And anger, the fury at being perceived as lesser than, that which bound him more truly to his fans than any other coach could ever be at Maryland, couldn't fuel him in the same way it once had.

After the title, his teams finished 2nd (tied), 6th, 6th (tied), 6th, 3rd (tied), 5th (tied), 7th (tied), 1st (tied) and 7th.

In his last few years, the Post began running articles suggesting that Williams should retire, that his recruiting philosophy wasn't working anymore, and in 2010-11, he stepped down.

But by that point, he had demonized Duke immensely and to this day, that's what is behind the Terrapin antipathy to the Blue Devils. If the fight between Heyman and Brown laid the groundwork for a 50+year war between UNC and Duke, Gary's resentments and tendency to find blame elsewhere laid the groundwork for Maryland's rage and paranoia about Duke. And by the way, Lefty Driesell pioneered this with his antipathy towards Dean Smith. It's just that the focus shifted.

It did produce some great basketball, but when you convince your people that sinister forces are determined to keep you down, it's very hard to also condition them to expect success. In fact, he did the opposite and taught Maryland fans to expect to be screwed.

So in a few weeks, Turgeon and his Terrapins will come unmoored. They won't be able to find a Greensboro-based conspiracy against Maryland, and a court of law is a poor substitute for a basketball court.  They won't be able to focus their ire on Duke and, to a somewhat lesser extent UNC.

Institutionally, Maryland will have to take responsibility for itself. Succeed or fail, Terranoya, to borrow a phrase, can't blame anything on the usual suspects. It's going to be interesting to see how that works out.