COLLEGE PARK -- A month before the season began, Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams was talking about the first four games of his team's ACC schedule.
"If we don't play well," he said, "we could be 0-4."
Call it a self-unfulfilling prophecy.
The Terrapins would like to call it history today.
After losing six straight games overall, after one game at home (against top-ranked Duke) in the past five weeks, Maryland (7-7, 0-4) returns to Cole Field House this afternoon to meet ACC newcomer Florida State (8-4, 2-2) at 1:30.
It marks the first of three straight home games for the Terps, who are coming off a 96-76 defeat to No. 14 North Carolina Monday night. Maryland also lost at No. 16 Georgia Tech (92-67) and North Carolina State (94-88) during this ACC losing streak.
"It'll be interesting to see how we'll respond to the challenge," Williams said earlier in the week. "We can't get down on ourselves. We've got to remember who we've played."
Williams said he hopes that his players don't put too much pressure upon themselves, and he hopes that the home crowd will give his players the kind of support they need to end Maryland's longest losing streak since 1989.
"I'm just looking at it as playing Florida State," he said. "You can't put more emphasis on one game, I learned that a long time ago."
Said junior center Evers Burns: "This is one of the biggest games of my life. It's time to end this streak. We're looking forward to playing this game."
The game marks Florida State's first appearance against Maryland since joining the ACC this season. The Seminoles already have established themselves as one of the league's better road teams, with upsets at both North Carolina and Wake Forest.
Florida State coach Pat Kennedy said he is not thrilled by the prospect of playing the Terps. While fans in Tallahassee expect the Seminoles to win easily, Kennedy has spent the past week trying to convince his players that facing Maryland might be more difficult than facing North Carolina.
"We're playing them at as bad a time as we could find," said Kennedy. "They've lost six in a row. They're 0-4 in the league. They're 7-7, and they don't want to fall under .500. We're going to have to be ready."
The game also marks the return to the state of former Dunbar High School star Sam Cassell, who leads the Seminoles in scoring and is coming off a career-high, 34-point performance in an 88-85, overtime win against the Demon Deacons a week ago.
Cassell is part of a three-guard alignment, along with point guard Charlie Ward and Chuckie Graham, that has given other ACC teams fits with its quickness. The guards are going to create matchup problems for the often overmatched Terps.
"I think the thing that surprised people is their quickness," said Williams. "Cassell really adds to that. The thing that separates them from a lot of teams is their quickness. It's hard to work on in practice. You might know a certain play is coming from watching them on film, but you can't react fast enough."
It's not that Maryland has played horribly in its first four ACC games. The Terps unraveled down the stretch at Georgia Tech, had scoring droughts at the start of each half against Duke, failed to hit some key shots in the closing two minutes at N.C. State and were worn down in the second half by North Carolina.
The Seminoles have something of a schizophrenic personality, up one game and down the next. They lost their only ACC home game, a 77-68 overtime defeat to Virginia. They are not particularly deep, and big men Rodney Dobard and Andre Reid are prone to foul. They are shooting worse than Maryland from the field.
"Some teams are playing better than they did at the beginning of the season, and some teams are playing worse," said Kennedy. "I think both these teams are trying to settle down."
Maryland is trying to do something it hasn't done in a while.