Its coaches will tell you that the Atlantic Coast Conference isn't down.
Either they are in denial, or oblivious to the prospect that what has traditionally been the nation's premier conference might get only three teams in the NCAA tournament for the first time in two decades, back when the field was limited to 40 teams.
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird ruled in 1979 and produced a memorable title game, but on Tobacco Road that NCAA tournament is remembered for "Black Sunday," when Duke and North Carolina lost second-round games in the same doubleheader, in Raleigh, N.C., no less.
The tournament filled out to 48 teams the next year, and every year since the ACC has had at least four entrants. The tournament expanded to 64 in 1985, and seven times the conference produced six NCAA entries.
This isn't going to be the eighth.
According to the computer programs the NCAA men's basketball committee uses to select and seed the tournament, the fourth-best team in the ACC is Florida State, which has bubble written all over it. The Seminoles began the week No. 22 in the replica of the Ratings Percentage Index, but that number is about strength of schedule, not quality wins.
Florida State's ole' brand of defense allowed Maryland to score 107 points at Cole Field House on Wednesday night -- the most by the Terps in regulation in a conference game in 24 years. The main reason the Seminoles remain in a third-place tie with North Carolina is that so many other teams have been such disappointments.
Wake Forest thought it was on the right track when it won at Clemson on Jan. 9, but then it turned out that the Tigers were flawed. The Demon Deacons dropped their fifth straight last night at N.C. State, which in its previous five conference games had beaten only Virginia.
Because of the rampant mediocrity, the drums have long been beating for the second meeting between No. 2 Duke and No. 4 Maryland on Wednesday in Durham.
Both have extraordinary teams, but the caliber of the competition has something to do with why they rank first and second in the nation in average margin of victory. When they collide, the Blue Devils should have a 16-game winning streak and the Terps could be on a seven-game run in conference play for only the second time since the ACC formed in 1953.
"Our league isn't as good as it was in 1986 [when six ACC teams made the tournament], but no league is," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We don't have the seniors and juniors, the great players, because some have left early. But compared to other leagues, ours is as good as any."
Plenty buy that -- how else do you explain Clemson still getting votes in the coaches and media polls? -- but it's the opinion of the NCAA men's basketball committee that matters. Duke will be a No. 1 seed, and Maryland could be. North Carolina could be as high as a No. 3, and that might be it for the ACC.
Comings and goings
North Carolina and Florida State say they will get better in 1999, thanks to some late roster additions.
Vasco Evtimov was supposed to start for the Tar Heels at power forward, but the NCAA suspended him for the first 18 games for his involvement with a club team during a redshirt season he spent as a soldier in the French army.
Forward Damous Anderson didn't get his associate's degree at Metro Atlanta College last season, so he had to sit out the first semester with the Seminoles. He's playing more than 26 minutes off the bench for coach Steve Robinson.
"He brings speed, speed and more speed," Wake Forest coach Dave Odom said.
Virginia forward Colin Ducharme, who broke a foot in November, still hasn't suited up. The junior would be eligible for a red-shirt season, but he might not be interested in that option.
Besides its best free-throw shooting (.893) of the season, Maryland hit a season-high 54.5 percent (6-for-11) of its three-pointers against Florida State.
Pub Date: 1/29/99