- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2000

Maryland received its highest preseason ranking in the Gary Williams' era, garnering the No. 5 position in the preseason Associated Press top 25 poll released yesterday. The ACC led all conferences with five ranked teams, including Virginia at No. 24.

Arizona received the top ranking with 37 first-place votes from the 72 sportswriters from around the country who take part in balloting. Duke was second with 29 nods for the top spot. The Blue Devils are followed by No. 3 Michigan State (five first-place votes), the defending national champion, and Stanford. The fifth-ranked Terps had one vote for No. 1.

"That's great," said Williams, who's beginning his 12th season in College Park. "It's a nice compliment to our program. It's up to us to prove that we're that good."

North Carolina, which reached the Final Four last season, is No. 6. The rest of the top 10 is Kansas, Illinois, Tennessee and Seton Hall. Wake Forest is the other ranked ACC team at No. 20. Georgetown is unranked but was among those also receiving votes.

The Terps will find out early whether the lofty ranking is deserved when they open Nov. 20 in the Maui Classic, in which Arizona and Illinois are among the eight teams in the field.

Maryland returns its entire starting five and top three reserves from last season's 25-10 team, which finished second in the ACC to Duke and bowed out of the NCAA tournament with a devastating loss to UCLA in the second round. The highest the Terps had been ranked in the preseason under Williams was sixth in 1998 with a roster that included current NBA players Steve Francis, Obinna Ekezie and Laron Profit.

The highest preseason ranking for the program came in 1972, when Lefty Driesell's group was rated third with standouts John Lucas, Len Elmore and Tom McMillen.

This year's Terps return All-American candidate Terence Morris and first-team All-ACC members Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter. The team legitimately goes 10 deep with the addition of highly touted transfer Byron Mouton, a shooting guard/power forward, and blue-chip recruit Chris Wilcox, a 6-foot-10 power forward.

"At Tulane, we were trying to prove something because you're at the bottom," said Mouton, a junior who sat out last season after transferring. "But it's the same thing here. You are at the point where you still have to prove you deserve to be in the top 10."

The ACC regained respect after a down season. Only three league teams made the NCAA tournament in a conference that had been considered the nation's premier league.

Third-year coach Pete Gillen returned Virginia to the rankings for the first time since Dec. 2, 1996, when current American coach Jeff Jones was in charge. North Carolina is rated sixth in Matt Doherty's first season as coach. The ACC lost no underclassmen to the NBA last season and returned seniors like Morris, Duke's Shane Battier the favorite for national player of the year and North Carolina's 7-foot center Brendan Haywood.

"If you look at it, Wake Forest won the NIT and Carolina went to the Final Four," Williams said. "No other conference did better than that. We are getting respect this year because no one left. For the past three or four years, underclassmen left early."

The poll is dominated by big conferences. Six major conferences have at least three teams ranked. One conspicuous absence is the Atlantic 10, which begins the season with no one in the top 25.

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