Minneapolis Maryland's first Final Four will forever be linked with Duke and not only because the teams play each other in the national semifinals.
The Terrapins' wild ride of a season can't be talked about without mentioning Duke, Duke and Duke.
There was the Blue Devils' stunning comeback in College Park, Md., with Jason Williams scoring eight points in 14 seconds; Maryland's impressive victory in Durham, N.C., a month later; and finally, Duke's win in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, with Nate James' last-second tip-in.
Part IV will be Saturday at the Metrodome in the second national semifinal, where the Terrapins advanced partly because of lessons learned playing the Blue Devils. Defending champion Michigan State faces Arizona in the first semifinal.
"What I like is when we play Duke, both teams respect each other. There's no trash talking," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "The players know each other by now. You just go play."
Williams is the only Final Four rookie among the coaches in Minneapolis. Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski has been to the Final Four 10 times, winning two national championships.
"Mike and Duke have been a tremendous thing for our league, because the respect Duke has nationally certainly helps the Atlantic Coast Conference and what we stand for as a basketball league," Williams said. "You also have a team that you try to get your team to emulate, to try to get to that point with your program. That's been a motivation."
Duke (33-4) was the factor behind the biggest turns this season for the Terrapins (25-10).
On Jan. 27, in a matchup of Top 10 teams, Maryland was in control. A victory would snap the Blue Devils' three-game winning streak at Cole Fieldhouse, and the sellout crowd of 14,500 was ready to explode in celebration.
The Terrapins led by 10 points with 54 seconds to play. But then Jason Williams took over, and the Blue Devils forced the game into overtime, winning 98-96.
Maryland lost four of its next five games and instead of talking about seeding, the chatter around the program was about whether the Terrapins even make the NCAA Tournament.
"What we did do was talk about that it was just us, how we had to stay together and that we weren't going to get help from anywhere else," Williams said. "It might take a while because it was a tough loss. At the same time, we did stay together and that's the only reason we were able to get back to playing good basketball again."
When the Terrapins did start the turnaround, the fourth of six straight wins was at Duke, 91-80. Williams said that when his team walked off the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium he knew Maryland could win anywhere.
And since then, the Terrapins' only loss was in the conference tournament, 84-82 to Duke on James' basket with 1.3 seconds remaining.
"I haven't felt any better about a game than when I walked off the court in Atlanta after the Maryland game, and it was just not because we won," Krzyzewski said. "I thought the game was the highest caliber and the best game we've been in all year.
"Going into the Final Four, we know that is what we have to do, we have to play a game of that caliber to have a chance to win because we know Maryland will play that game."
Michigan State, meanwhile, is trying to become the first repeat national champion since Duke in 1992. If the Spartans (28-4) do it, it will be in the same two cities the Blue Devils won Indianapolis and Minneapolis.
Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only Duke (1988-92), Kentucky (1996-98) and these Spartans have reached three straight Final Fours.
"I've found the key is keeping your guys focused," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "It's harder when some of them aren't used to the media attention of the aura of the Final Four. Keeping guys focused is a big key in advancing."
Arizona (27-7) is back in the Final Four for the first time since winning it all in 1997. One member of that team is back, and Eugene Edgerson is one of the most noticeable players on the court with his Afro, kneepads and old-fashioned sneakers.
"The experience of having been there is so vital, especially when you get to the site," Arizona coach Lute Olson said as he prepared for his fifth Final Four, the fourth with the Wildcats.
"To have someone like Eugene, who has been through it, is invaluable. I think his experience is so valuable for the younger guys."