Maryland will play at Duke this afternoon, and it will be the end of a long era, one in which the teams have faced each other, home and away, each season, since the formation of the ACC in 1953.
When Miami and Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004, followed by Boston College in 2005, the ACC did away with the round robin format to the basketball season and introduced an unbalanced schedule. Prior to the league's expansion, the ACC featured nine member schools, a number that now seems quaint in the era of the super conference, when every team played every other team, home and away, every season.
Then when the ACC became a 12-team league, the conference created a system whereby each team had two 'primary partners' that they'd play home and away every year, and then rotate playing once or twice per year against the other teams. I personally hated the change because it replaced what was a perfect system -- you got to play each team on your court and on their court. But that's ancient history and not worth discussing. With the mid 2000s expansion following shortly on the heels of the Terrapins rise to the national championship in 2002 - and, more importantly, some truly epic battles with Duke during the Juan Dixon era - the ACC made Maryland a primary partner to Duke and UVa.
Over the years, Maryland had some great games with Duke, but none arguably more memorable or important than the ones in the late 90s and early 2000s, with both teams in the top 10. While Duke has maintained its excellence among the nation's elite program since that time, Maryland has been much more up and down, with a few very solid seasons interspersed with some very average, forgettable ones (Travis Garrison anyone?)
There were, of course, the stinging chants of "not our rival" from the Dukies when Maryland would visit Cameron Indoor, a chant meant to indicate that Duke's one and only true rival is and was North Carolina, a program that Maryland replaced at the top of the ACC pecking order for a short time, but not anymore.
And, so, where are we now? With Gary Williams retiring last year and the hiring of Mark Turgeon, Maryland has entered an entirely new era. And, perhaps fittingly, so has the ACC. This is the last year - and today is the last game in the series - where Maryland will play Duke twice a year, every year. Starting next year, the Terps' new primary partner is not Duke or even UVa, but Pitt, a team Maryland has absolutely no history or tradition with - but a very good program that's been among the nation's elite for the past decade under coach Jamie Dixon. Pitt is slightly down this year (15-9, 4-7 in the Big East), but has been to the NCAA tournament the past 8 seasons and hasn't won less than 25 games since the '04-'05 season.
As a Maryland fan, there are two ways to look at this new primary partner. One is to feel slighted by the powers that be in the ACC. After all, the Terps have been a part of the conference since its formation, so why are we the partner to one of the newbies? Is there not one school that we've developed a rivalry with worth preserving? Sadly, or perhaps just interestingly, the answer is "not really." I don't think any Terp fan gets particularly fired up to watch Maryland play UVa (and UVa is a natural rival to Va Tech), and who else was it going to be? N.C. State? Wake Forest? Nah, better to give Maryland and its new coach a new rival, one altogether worthy of respect, and, hopefully over time, the source of a kind of hatred reserved only for teams that it feels so good to beat.
Today, of course, there is the matter of Maryland at Duke. A rebuilding Maryland program without its point guard has little chance to beat the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor, but one never knows. Perhaps Terrell Stoglin has a career-defining 40-point explosion of a performance in his system, it wouldn't shock me. So I'll be watching. And, while I initially felt that losing the home and home with Duke every year would hurt the Maryland program and its fans, I now feel like it's the right change at the right time.
It will be a good change for the program to stop thinking so much about the Duke games, and more on building the kind of team and program that goes to the tournament every year and competes for the league title. Kinda like Pitt. No use fighting it, bring on the Blue Devils today, and bring on the new era under our new coach next year. Go Terps.