It has been a rather blase season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, where a pecking order was established early. There were few results that upset the hierarchy, but at least the final weekend of the regular season has the makings of a monumental matchup.
Duke, which began the season ranked No. 1 and intends to end it there, can become the first team to go 16-0 over its conference schedule since the ACC expanded to nine teams in 1991. The conclusion of that effort comes tomorrow at North Carolina, where the Blue Devils have lost seven straight.
As comfy as the Smith Center was for Obinna Ekezie, Laron Profit and Terrell Stokes during their Maryland careers, it has been a temple of doom for Duke. Its only conference loss last season came in Chapel Hill, and the Tar Heels would dearly love to deny Duke its piece of history.
Seven teams have gone unbeaten since the ACC opened for business in 1953. The last to do so was North Carolina in 1987. The last to have a perfect season and win the NCAA title? N.C. State, with David Thompson and Co., in 1974.
Duke struggled to get past North Carolina on Jan. 27 in Durham before pulling away to a 12-point victory. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's team has stomped the rest of the conference by an average margin of 24.6 points.
Are the Blue Devils that good, or has the ACC just been that bad? If the NCAA takes the latter approach, the conference could get only three teams in the NCAAs for the first time since 1979, when the field was limited to 40 teams.
"To say that only three teams are capable of competing in the top 64 in the country is incomprehensible to me," Wake Forest coach Dave Odom said. "I can't imagine it happening, but that may be true. As a conference, if it did happen, we would have to re-evaluate some things.
"We all play a difficult nonconference schedule, and more than any other conference, we're doing what the NCAA asks us to do."
Odom isn't just blowing smoke on the strength-of-schedule issue. His team has lost three nonconference games, to Temple, Arkansas and Utah. You know what could get the Demon Deacons into the field of 64? Their Super Bowl Sunday upset of Maryland, the only win they have over a team currently receiving Top 25 votes.
Who gets a No. 1?
If Maryland does get a No. 1 seed for the first time, it will be because of its nonconference schedule, and not just the marquee games against No. 6 Stanford, No. 13 Kentucky and No. 15 UCLA. Most of the mid-major and minor-conference opponents the Terps played in November and December had strong regular seasons.
Princeton probably would win the Ivy League with a win over Penn on Tuesday. UMBC is the top seed in the Northeast Conference tournament, South Carolina State will be favored in the Mid-Eastern Athletic and Hofstra expects to be a factor in the America East.
A strong showing in the Conference USA tournament would get DePaul on the right side of the NCAA bubble.
Only Duquesne (249 in the RPI ratings), North Texas (265) and Western Carolina (290) qualified as cupcakes for the Terps. The American-Puerto Rico folly will not be a factor, since the men's basketball committee weighs only Division I games.
Contrast Maryland's nonconference schedule with Auburn's. The Tigers' 12-0 mark featured these RPIs: Florida A&M; (294), Southeast Louisiana (292), North Carolina-Asheville (259), Bethune-Cookman (228), Hawaii (223) and Wofford (219).
Auburn also beat Rutgers (27), Florida State (48), Alabama-Birmingham (52), Navy (97), Central Florida (113) and Brigham Young (169).
Earl Badu, a freshman walk-on from Baltimore's St. Frances who has been practicing with the Terps all season, suited up for the first time Feb. 13 against North Carolina. With Ekezie done for the season, Badu pushes the roster back up to 13 players. Five straight wins over N.C. State at Reynolds Coliseum lifted Maryland's record there to 18-25. Only North Carolina and Duke had better winning percentages in a building that was host to its last regular-season men's game Wednesday night, the Wolfpack's 71-63 win over Florida State.
Pub Date: 2/26/99