There is a myth being circulated around the Atlantic Coast Conference this week that there are six teams capable of winning the ACC tournament that begins Thursday in Greensboro, N.C.


Three teams are capable of winning the tournament: Maryland, North Carolina and North Carolina State. Those who argue for Duke, Virginia or Clemson are hanging onto false hopes.

Maryland, which opens against Georgia Tech in Thursday's 3 p.m. game, is the tournament favorite.The Terrapins won the league championship by two games, and there were no fluke victories. In fact, the Terps could have won any of the three league games they lost.

Backup center Taylor Baldwin is questionable with 18 stitches in the left hand that collided with a rim Saturday. Other than that, Maryland is healthy, is playing with tremendous confidence and has possibly the two best athletes in the tourney -- Albert King and Buck Williams -- in its starting lineup.

Those who argue that the Terps (21-5) will not be fired up for the tournament because they have a lock on an NCAA tourney bid don't know Coach Lefty Driesell.

Even though he claimed last week that he does not care about the tournament, don't believe him. Not winning it 10 straight times irks him. He will be sky high and so will his players. Look for Driesell to stomp early against Georgia Tech. That will be the tipoff that he is really into the game.

The Terps will play either North Carolina or N.C. State in the final. If the Tar Heels (20-6) had freshman ace James Worthy healthy -- he is out with a broken leg-- they would be the favorites. Without Worthy, they stil have an excellent chance of successfully defending their title.

As always, Dean Smith's team is peaking for the tournament. Although the Tar Heels were beaten at State in Hawkeye Whitney's last home game a week ago, they have been devastating the last two weeks. Saturday, they humiliated Duke, 96-71. Mike O'Koren, after a midseason slump, is playing well, and getting help from senior centers Jeff Wolf and Rich Yonakor, who until recently were two of the most disappointing players in recent ACC history.

The Tar Heels might not reach the final, though -- N.C. State is playing that well. What's more, unlike Duke, where the uncertain status of Coach Bill Foster has hurt the team, the Wolfpack appears, if anything, inspired by the impending departure of Coach Norman Sloan.

State has won nine of its last 10 games. Whitney, who would be the ACC player-of-the-year if not for Albert King, is playing superbly.

The Wolfpack is fired up to "win one for Norman." It just might.

With Sloan having announced that he is leaving for Florida, State (20-6) knows just where it stands.

Virginia, on the other hand, won't win one for Coach Terry Holland or anybody else this weekend. The Cavaliers are too busy looking for excuses for their 19-9 record to worry about trying to beat Clemson in Thursday's 9 p.m. game.

If Holland would stop censoring his players and let them play, maybe this team, with the likes of 7-foot-4 freshman Ralph Sampson, Jeff Lamp and Lee Raker, might play up to its potential. More likely, Clemson will beat them and Holland will blame it all on distractions.

Duke will join Virginia on the sidelines -- and in the NIT-- after the first round. Foster's apparently imminent departure has hurt the Blue Devils (19-8), but what has hurt them more is that no one on the team can consistently hit a shot from outside 15 feet.

Eugene Banks, who probably will turn pro if Foster leaves, has been brilliant all year, but all-American center Mike Gminski has been up and down. Duke will lose to State in Thursday's 7 p.m. game.

Then there is Clemson (19-7). The Tigers were unbeatable at home this season, almost impotent (1-6) on the road.With Billy Williams, Horace Wyatt and Larry Nance, they have a solid club and Bill Foster is an excellent coach. They should give Maryland a tough time in the semifinals.

As for the other two teams, seventh-seeded Wake Forest (13-13) and eighth-seeded Georgia Tech (8-18), each could pull a Thursday surprise. But even in that unlikely event neither has the manpower to win three games in three nights.