For Maryland, it's the game of the 1998-99 college basketball season, Part III.
The Dec. 6 win over Stanford at the MCI Center was big. So was the Dec. 12 loss at Kentucky. Now, for the third time this season, a Final Four atmosphere will surround fourth-ranked Maryland as second-ranked Duke comes to Cole Field House on Sunday.
For a Maryland team with high aspirations, how the Terps respond against the Blue Devils will be a measuring stick.
"Duke's coming in and they have a lot of firepower," said Maryland forward Laron Profit. "We just have to play really hard and play really well and intelligently down the stretch."
The teams have a lot of similarities. Each enters this game with one loss. Each is 1-0 in ACC play. Maryland, the top-scoring team in the conference (90.4 points per game) has won its games by an average of 34.1 points. Duke, the second-best scoring team in the ACC, has won by an average of 26.
It might wind up being the most-hyped game during the ACC regular season. But the Maryland players are keeping a level head.
"A lot of people will hype it up because it's Duke, but it's just the second ACC game, not the championship," said Terps guard Steve Francis.
"It's going to be another game. We can't look at it like the end of the season."
Later, Francis added: "But we will be ready."
After getting crushed by Kentucky, 80-39, nearly two weeks ago, Georgia Tech was seeking redemption. And it seemed it found it 10 days ago when the Yellow Jackets shocked then-No. 7 North Carolina, 66-64.
"What a roller coaster," Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins said of the huge differences in back-to-back games against Top 10 teams.
Little did Cremins know he'd have to endure another major drop on the ride.
That plunge came Saturday when the Yellow Jackets were got hammered by Hofstra, 61-42, in the opening round of the ECAC Holiday Festival in New York.
"Sometimes if you try to figure things like this out, all it does is drive you crazy," Cremins said after the Hofstra game. "That wasn't our team that played the last game."
These days, Cremins doesn't really know what team is going to show up for games. Georgia Tech's 10-3 record after Wednesday's 80-74 victory over Mount St. Mary's seems impressive on paper, but in addition to the Hofstra loss, the Jackets struggled in wins over Appalachian State (74-72), Wofford (76-63) and Iona (72-65).
Starting with tomorrow's game against North Carolina State, all but one of Georgia Tech's remaining contests are against ACC opponents.
The Yellow Jackets miss the leadership and scoring of Matt Harpring, whose scoring average of 21.6 points ranked 14th in the nation last season.
While the current team has four players averaging in double figures, only one regular, sophomore Jon Babul, is shooting better than 42 percent from the field. Freshman point guard Tony Akins had 10 turnovers against Hofstra.
"I hope this is rock bottom," Babul said after Saturday's game. "Because we can't play any worse than this."
Georgia Tech hasn't been the only ACC team struggling. Outside of Duke and Maryland, it hasn't been a happy holiday season for the other teams in the conference.
Touching on recent low points: No. 9 North Carolina's three losses have all come against unranked teams (Georgia Tech, College of Charleston and California), Georgia Tech has lost on a neutral court to Hofstra, 14th-ranked Clemson has been drilled on its home court by unranked Illinois and Florida State lost on the road to a Princeton team that's not as strong as it has been in recent years.
And the ACC, outside the top teams, hasn't produced its usual quality wins. Through Tuesday, Wake Forest was 9-4, but 0-4 against major Division I teams; Virginia (8-4), was 1-4 against major Division I teams, and North Carolina State (9-3) was 1-3 against major Division I teams.
That lack of dominance during the pre-conference schedule could come back to hurt the ACC during NCAA selection time.
Pub Date: 1/01/99