Luke DeCock

Duke-Maryland: Make it happen now that Sulaimon’s there

Rasheed Sulaimon  scores in the second half as Syracuse center Baye Moussa Keita  defends.The former Duke guard is transferring to Maryland, where he can play immediately if he graduates from Duke in August.
Rasheed Sulaimon scores in the second half as Syracuse center Baye Moussa Keita defends.The former Duke guard is transferring to Maryland, where he can play immediately if he graduates from Duke in August. cliddy@newsobserver.com

When Maryland left the ACC for the Big Ten, by all appearances that meant the end of its rivalry with Duke, a secondary rivalry for the Blue Devils to be sure, but one that provided no shortage of sparks, smoke and open flames over the years.

The fire isn’t out yet.

With Rasheed Sulaimon’s announcement Monday that he will transfer to Maryland after being kicked off Duke’s team in January – he’ll be eligible to play immediately if he completes his degree in summer school – the rivalry has new life. Now it’s up to ESPN and the ACC to fan the flames.

ESPN’s Andy Katz predicted recently that Maryland will visit North Carolina and Duke will host Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which will be Nov. 30, Dec. 1 and Dec. 2. Katz may have been speculating, but it’s likely it was informed by his employer.

It’s time to scrap all of that and find a way to get Duke and Maryland together, over Duke’s undoubtedly vocal objections.

This is, to put it bluntly, beyond obvious.

The ACC-Big Ten Challenge is a made-for-TV event. Putting together what is now clearly the most compelling matchup, in terms of both intrigue and quality, is exactly what the ESPN and the ACC should be making for TV.

Duke at Maryland. Or Maryland at Duke. It doesn’t matter. Either Sulaimon returns to Duke or Duke returns to the Xfinity Center. It doesn’t get any juicier than that.

Duke’s due for a home game after playing at Wisconsin last year, but it’s far from unprecedented for teams to play at home or on the road in consecutive seasons. The Blue Devils went home-home-road-road from 2006-09, and played at home in both 2012 and 2013. Per Katz, North Carolina is about to play at home two years in a row anyway.

The location is the least important thing. The most important thing is pulling the right strings to make sure it happens.

Duke would, presumably, do everything it can to prevent this. The extra drama of seeing Sulaimon back at Cameron Indoor Stadium or the degree of difficulty that heading into a frenzy at Maryland would present, especially early in the season, isn’t exactly what a young, rebuilding team needs.

But it’s what ESPN needs. And it’s what the ACC needs. Recently, it’s been hard to distinguish between the two sometimes. Compared to reorganizing the conference schedule on the fly to make sure Duke and Syracuse played twice in 2014-15 to capitalize on the ratings from 2013-14, a neat feat of calendar gerrymandering, this is easy.

Even if the matchups have been sketched out internally in Bristol, nothing’s been announced. Nothing’s set in stone.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has said the only way he’ll ever schedule Maryland is if it’s part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. So force his hand.

Meanwhile, both Duke and Maryland will be better than anyone expected them to be a month ago, injecting more prestige into a potential matchup.

Even without Sulaimon’s Duke baggage, adding him to a roster that was already going to be more powerful thanks to incoming freshman Diamond Stone, one of the top recruits in the country, makes Maryland a clear top-five team and contender for preseason No. 1.

Duke, meanwhile, rallied from the loss of four starters from its national-title team by landing point guard Derryck Thornton and Kinston star Brandon Ingram late in the recruiting process, further bolstering expectations that had been given a boost by Grayson Allen’s emergence at the Final Four.

The anticipation is already building for a game that isn’t currently scheduled to be played, and probably won’t be played. But it should be.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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