Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell has been criticized in some quarters in recent years for scheduling cream-puff non-conference basketball games. Except for Notre Dame, an annual national television game, the Terrapins have played a lot of games against Biscayne, Bucknell and Brown.

At least one Maryland player -- Albert King -- doesn't like playing mediocre competition before the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.

"I would rather play real good teams, play top 20 teams," King said Saturday night after his team had sleepwalked through a 72-59 win over Brown. "It's more of a challenge to play good teams and good players.

"It's more of a challenge when you play top 20 teams. It's more fun for us that way and it's more fun for the fans too."

King, who was brilliant in tough games earlier in the week against Penn State (a 56-55 win) and Georgetown, (an 83-71 loss) looked bored in the Brown game, taking just 10 shots and getting only one rebound.

"It was a little hard to maintain any momentum," he admitted. King has averaged 22.3 ponts a game through four games, taking a clear leadership role with Buck Williams out with a broken finger.

Maryland does not play another first-rate opponent in its next six games and should be 9-1 going into its Jan. 5 game with Wake Forest.

The Terps' patty-cake schedule will work to their advantage -- at least for now. But under the new NCAA rules that allow an unlimited number of teams into the tournament from a given conference, schedules can be a factor in the decision on which team to invite as the third or fourth ACC choice. Right now, Maryland, N.C. Sstate and Clemson are playing mediocre teams throughout December while North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, and Wake Forest play tough schedules.

If Driesell wants to make a legitimate claim to having a top 20 team, he must play more top teams outside the conference and not just use the ACC schedule as an excuse for playing no one outside the conference.

What's more, the weak schedule hurts the school financially. Only 7,316 showed up to watch Brown. Games with Catholic, Bucknell and Kent State aren't going to do much better.

If there is a sleeper team in the ACC this year, it is Clemson. The Tigers are 4-0, including a 93-73 rout of South Carolina Wednesday. They have veteran guards in Bobby Conrad and Billy E. Williams, three decent 6-foot-10 men and some depth . . . Why was the Big Four Tournament canceled, effective in 1981? Dean Smith got tired of playing tough teams he'd have to face later in the year and walked away.

The vote to continue the tournament was 3-1 in favor, but UNC's no vote killed the whole thing. The other three schools are now considering alternatives. One possibility: bring in the other four ACC schools, one at a time on a rotating basis.

"That idea has not been greeted favorably," Maryland Athletic Director Carl James said on Friday.

Too bad.

John Bilney is Maryland's only senior. Where is the rest of the class of 1980 recruited four years ago? Jo Jo Hunter is at Colorado; Billy Bryant at Western Kentucky; Mark Crawford is working in Norfolk, Va., and David Henderson is a red-shirt junior . . . Sophomore guard Dwight Anderson, rated the best high school guard in the country two years ago, is very unhappy at Kentucky. Reportedly, Anderson and Kyle Macy cannot play together effectively in the same backcourt.

How about an ACC all-underrated team? Guards could be Bob Bender of Duke and Williams of Clemson; forwards Lee Raker of Virginia and Al Wood of UNC; center Jim Johnstone of Wake Forest.

Two top-flight seniors who considered red-shirting this season because of nagging preseason injuries will play this year: Frank Johnson of Wake Forest who had a foot injury and Mike Zagardo of George Washington, who had a bad ankle sprain. Zagardo scored 25 points Saturday to lead the Colonials to a 71-60 win over Auburn after looking shaky in his first three games . . . Ralph Sampson update: In Virginia's first tough game of the season Wednesday at Temple, the 7-foot-4 freshman blocked nine shots . . . It was a rough week for the Ivy League. Perennial champion Pennsylvania went to North Carolina and lost three games, including a 30-point defeat at Wake Forest; Princeton was beaten by 36 at Duke; Brown was handled easily at Maryland and Columbia lost by 10 to a weak South Carolina team . . . Duke Coach Bill Foster on winning his 300th game as a head coach: "I stopped worrying about winning 300 about 10 years ago . . . when I won my 286th."

After losing to Georgetown Wednesday, Lefty Driesell said he had "the best center in the country sitting on the bench," in Buck Williams. Williams is a superb player, but he has yet to play a varsity minute at center.

Football note: Alabama fans appeared to have reason to be disgruntled this week when Ohio State passed the Crimson Tide in the final AP poll. Alabama beat tough arch-rival Auburn, has won 20 straight games, and dropped a notch.