- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C Maryland is attempting to win the ACC's regular season and tournament for the first time in 49 seasons. Virginia needs at least one victory to be considered for an NCAA at-large bid. Duke is out to show, well, it is still Duke.
The top-seeded Terrapins play Florida State at noon today in a conference quarterfinal. Maryland is coming off its best regular season with a 25-3 record and was 15-1 in the ACC. The second-ranked Terps already have won their first outright league regular-season title in 22 seasons and ride a 12-game winning streak into today's game at Charlotte Coliseum.
"We've been close," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who has not won an ACC tournament title in 11 tries and has never won a conference tournament in 24 seasons as a head coach. "It would mean a lot to me to win it. But the regular season to me is the more important of the two."
Thanks to their spectacular regular season, the Terps should earn their first No.1 seed when the NCAA tournament is announced Sunday night. Maryland, whose only ACC tournament titles came in 1958 and 1984, plans to play plenty of basketball before that selection.
The winner of Maryland's game today will face the victor between No.4 N.C. State and fifth-seeded Virginia tomorrow afternoon. If seeds hold, the greatest current rivalry in college basketball will be renewed in Sunday's final between the Terps and defending national champion and second-seeded Duke.
"Every year we try to overcome our obstacles," Maryland guard Drew Nicholas said. "Last year people were talking about how Coach Williams couldn't get us past the Sweet 16. He got us to the Final Four. We did those kind of things. We're out here to do one thing that's win the ACC tournament championship. We won't be satisfied if we walk away with anything else."
The conference tournament has several other story lines. It almost surely will be the final one for Florida State coach Steve Robinson, who is expected to be fired in the next several days after a fourth consecutive losing season. Clemson coach Larry Shyatt's employment also is in jeopardy after a third straight play-in game appearance.
One of the most intriguing stories is Georgia Tech, which opened ACC play 0-7 before winning seven of its final nine league games. The sixth-seeded Yellow Jackets (15-15, 7-9) can earn an NIT bid with a victory against No.3 Wake Forest tonight, and are a sleeper to steal the tournament and the league's automatic NCAA berth.
"We felt if we could just get one, we felt like we could go on a roll," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, whose only losses in the second half of the conference schedule were to Duke and Maryland. "Duke and Maryland are clearly head and shoulders above everybody else in the league. But for that matter, they are head and shoulders above everybody else in the country except Kansas. So we just happen to be stuck with them."
The third-ranked Blue Devils (26-3, 13-3) have perhaps the most to prove after Maryland snapped their run of five straight regular-season championships. Duke has won three consecutive ACC tournaments, but its dynasty could be cracking as National Player of the Year Jason Williams and All-ACC center Carlos Boozer, both juniors, are playing in their final conference tournament before leaving early for the NBA.
"We live in a world where in the last five or six years we have been a team that's hunted," said Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team faces No.7 North Carolina tonight. "We never assume that there is any other role."
Meanwhile the goal for Virginia is to salvage a once-promising season and avoid having to settle for the NIT. The Cavaliers (17-10, 7-9 ACC) were ranked as high as No.4 in the country before losing eight of their last 11 games. They are the only ACC team surfing around the NCAA's "bubble." Maryland, Duke, Wake Forest and N.C. State have locked up bids.


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