The second season of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball, short in duration but long in emotion, begans in Greensboro Coliseum Thursday with three first-round games of the ACC tournament.
"This is where the fun starts," said Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell, who said he expects guard Greg Manning to play despite a back injury. Manning practiced today and said he is felling fine.
"What youi've done in past," said Clemson Coach Bill Foster, "doesn't matter when you get here."
Regular season cochampion Duke begins the topurnament with a 1 p.m. game against Wake Forest, followed by Virginia-N.C. State at 3 and Maryland-Clemson at 8. North Carolina has a bye.
The Virginia-N.C. State game and the Maryland-Clemson contest will be televised (WJLA-TV-7). All games will be on Washington-area radio, the first two on WPRW-1460 and the Terps on WMAL-630.
The tournament shapes up as a fiery oen, with no tram in the league currently playing better than antother, and none assured of an NCAA at-large bid.
No conference is allowed more than two teams in this year's NCAA event.
The automatic NCAA bid to the conference champion goes to the winner of Saturday's final. Normally, the regular-season champion could feel assured of receiving the at-large bid if it fails to win the tournament.
But with the possibility of some team order than the cochampions coming out on top here, even Duke and North Carolina must enter the tournament in a frame of mind Virginia Coach Terry Hokland calls "desperation."
"Here, the problems come if you think you have a bid locked up," said Holland. "The main thing is you have to concentrate on each opponent. You almost need to be an desperate situation.
"We are certainly not a favorite to win the thing. We may not even be a favorite in our first-round game."
North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, whose team lost two of three games this season to Duke, but match the Blue Devils' 9-3 ACC record, said, "Both Duke and Carolina have to say to themselves, 'We can't depend on the NCAA selection committee to get us there. Let's win it'."
Driesell said that the team is ready.
"We have confidence. We always have confidence," said Driesell, whose ACC tourney record is 8-9. Maryland's last (and only) ACC tourney championship was in 1958, the year present forward John Bilney was born.
"Our chances are just as good as anyone's," said Driesell. "I told our guys, this is like a second season. If we win three games here, we've accomplished three of our goals: winning 20 games, winning the ACC championship and being nationally ranked.
"I told them if we win eight straight games, we accomplish another goal: winning the national championship."
Driesell, who starts two freshmen and two sophomores, said he doesn't expect youth to be a problem. But he feels differently about playing the games in Greensboro Coliseum.
"The odds are against a non-carolina team winning it," said Driesell.
Facts bear him out. Only three non-North Carolina teams have won the tournament in its past 25 years Maryland in 1958, South Carolina in 1971 and Virginia in 1976 at Capital Centre.
Clemson's Foster has beaten all the North Carolina teams but lost four games to Virginia and Maryland in compiling the Tigers' 5-7 sixth-place record. The Tigers are 18-8 overall.
Foster has juggled a starting lineup of young players all season and has made another change since the last Maryland game, starting 6-foot-10, 245-pound junior John Campbell at center.
The switch was made prior to the Duke game in vague hopes of matching up with the Blue Devils' center, Mike Gminski. Clemson won, 70-49.
Larry Nance, who was at center has moved back to forward, and at 6-10 provides Maryland's 6-8 Buck Williams with a sizable problem.
Marvin Dickerson, 6-6, starts at the other forward, with 6-2 Bobby Conrad at point guard and 6-3 Billy Williams, the leading scorer (13 points), at the shooting guard.
"Size-wise, we match up better with Maryland than we did last time," said Foster, the only ACC head coach to show up for today's practices in blue jeans. "We still don't have a guy at the second guard as big as (6-7 Ernest) Graham. He's one of the guys who scares you. If he gets in that rhythm, realistically there's no way to stop him.
"Realistically, we can try to do something about fouls. We hit more field goals in both games and still lost to Maryland at the free-throw line. We can also do something about eliminating their transition baskets and second shots." Foster said he hadn't told his players anything special.
"I'm trying to take the low-key approach," he said. "We're underdogs and everyone knows it. I don't have to make anything up."
The only mismatch of opening day woukd appear to be between Duke, 20-6 overall, and Wake, 12-14. But Duke's coach, also named Bill Foster, reminded questioners of how surprised everyone was when Clemson battered Duke by 21.
"That's what scares you. Wha if someone comes out playing like that?" asked Foster. "It's almost liek, if someone gets hot, or if two or three players get hot, that could carry a team right through."
Duke won the tournament last year, defeating Clemson, 83-72, Maryland, 81-69, and Wake Forest 85-77.