- The Washington Times - Friday, February 12, 2010


The Maryland Terrapins dig out of the Washington-area snow to travel south Saturday to battle the Duke Blue Devils for first place in the ACC — a mandatory, can’t-miss-game for serious college hoops fans across the country, right? Just like old times, eh?

Not quite.

Saturday’s 1 p.m. tipoff is a great matchup between Gary Williams’ gutsy Terps and the 3-point-happy Blue Devils — and both teams have set their sights set on making a run through the NCAA tournament.

But neither team is necessarily considered Final Four-caliber.

The unranked 16-6 Terps, led by tough senior guard Greivis Vasquez, may be having one of their best seasons in years, but still would go to the Big Dance as a Cinderella (a scary Cinderella, an underrated Cinderella, but a Cinderella, nonetheless).

Under Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke is always going to be in the mix, but the eighth-ranked Blue Devils were exposed as an undermanned perimeter team in a punishing Jan. 30 loss to Big East power Georgetown.

And Georgetown, ranked seventh nationally, is in FOURTH place in the brutal Big East, behind Syracuse, Villanova and West Virginia.

What’s happened to the once-intimidating ACC?

The theories are all over the map: The ACC has slipped back. The Big East and Atlantic 10 have caught up. The blue chips at North Carolina were overrated. Coach K is distracted.

Last year’s national champion and ACC regular-season champ, North Carolina, sent four players to the NBA, but Coach Roy Williams had a bushel of McDonald’s All-Americans who were supposed to step right in and replace the departing talent.

Instead, injuries and disappointments have turned this season into a meltdown — the 13-11 Tar Heels are in danger of missing the tournament altogether.

And who could blame Krzyzewski if he has his mind on the NBA, the Olympics or both? Especially, with news breaking that the NBA’s New Jersey Nets are going after Krzyzewski, who has — deservedly — earned a lot of credit for steering the pros on the U.S. team to Olympic gold in China.

Maybe Coach K liked coaching LeBron James so much he’d like to try it again? Could Krzyzewski as coach be enough bait to attract this summer’s biggest free agent prize?

With question marks hanging over the conference’s two powerhouses, North Carolina and Duke, the ACC is, suddenly, no longer the crown jewel of college basketball leagues.

In its latest prediction, ESPN’s Bracketology blog this week has six teams each from the ACC, Big East and the Atlantic 10 penciled into the tournament.

That would be a huge victory for the non-BCS Atlantic 10, to be essentially — at least for a year — even with the big boys from the ACC.

Saturday’s Duke-Maryland game tips off at 1 p.m. on CBS, with a rematch coming March 3 in College Park.

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