Lefty Driesell said it best today when someone asked him to assess the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament. "In this league," the Maryland coach said, as his team went through a final workout, "there's a thin line between being great and being stupid."

That thin line will be in evidence Thursday afternoon and night as the ACC tournament begins at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Seventh-seeded Wake Forest (13-13) and second-seeded North Carolina (20-6) will open the proceedings at 1 p.m., followed by topseeded Maryland (21-5) and Georgia Tech (8-18) at 3 p.m. Third-seeded N.C. State (20-6) and sixth-seeded Duke (19-8) will play at 7 p.m., followed by fourth-seeded Clemson (19-7) and fifth-seeded Virginia (19-9) at 9 p.m.

The Maryland-Georgia Tech game will be televised at 3 p.m. by WJLA-TV-7 and WMAR-TV-2; the North Carolina State-Duke game at 7 p.m. by WJAL-TV-7; the Virginia-Clemson game at 9 p.m. by WJAL-TV-7 and WBBF-TV-45. The Maryland-Georgia Tech game also will be broadcast on WMAL-Radio-630. t

If form holds, Maryland and Clemson will play Friday night followed by North Carolina and N.C. State. But, as all the coaches took pains to point out today, form is often the first thing to go by the boards in this tournament.

"Everyone's comfortable in here," Duke Coach Bill Foster said. "They've been here before, its a good floor and no one has the home-court edge. Usually, everyone plays well in here."

Foster and his Blue Devils probably received more pretournament attention today than any sixth-seeded team in history. First, junior forward Eugene Banks called a press conference to announce that be was NOT going hardship and would return to Duke for his senior year.

Meanwhile, Foster was refusing to answer a barrage of questions about his impending move to South Carolina. But the word was out: "He's going," said one Duke player, "we all know it."

Maryland, the tournament favorite, appeared loose and confident. "We're going to win it," said center Buck Williams. "It's just a feeling I have in my bones. I'll explain it on Saturday night."

A bit of good news for the Terps was that back-up center Taylor Baldwin, who suffered an 18-stitch cut in his left hand trying to dunk Saturday, will be available to play Thursday. He practiced with the team today.

The afternoon doubleheader matches favorities -- who have beaten their opponents twice this season. Traditionally, Wake Forest has played North Carolina tough, splitting 12 games with the tar Heels in four seasons before this one.

But without point guard Frank Johnson, the Deacons have trouble handling Carolina's pressure defenses. Benny McKaig and Mike Helms must get the ball upcourt and into the hands of forward Alvis Rogers and Guy Morgan for Wake to give the Tar Heel's a run.

This is the fifth time in eight years the Deacons and Tar Heels have played in the tournament. They have split the last four meetings.

On paper, Maryland-Georgia Tech is the biggest mismatch in the tournament. The Terps breezed to nine -- and 10-point victories in the teams' regular-season meetings, Tech never leading in either games.

Tech Coach Dwayne Morrison has two good players, Brooke Steepe, a fine outside shooter averaging 18.8 points a game and Lenny Horton, averaging 17.4

The Yellow Jackets, playing in their first ACC tournament have one other thing going for them: if they can keep the game close, most of the crowd will be behind them. In this tournament, almost everyone roots for the underdog.

"They'll come out scratching, clawing and talking," said Maryland forward Albert King, who was subjected to enough interviews today to last him until he turns 50. "Mostly they'll be talking."

The key to this game should be the first 10 minutes. "If we get ahead, we can just play our game," said Williams, smiling at the thought. "If not . . . "

If not, Tech will try to keep the score in the 40s, play slowdown, only take wide-open shots and, in general, give the crowd a chance to nap.

The crowd should be awake for the Duke-State game. One of the two coaches in this one will be coaching his last ACC game -- Foster is heading for South Carolina, Sloan already has announced he is leaving for Florida.

State was in hottest team in the league the last month and, along with Carolina and Maryland, enters the tournament with an NCAA bid all but wrapped up.

"We know we're in," assistant coach Marty Fletcher said today as Sloan busied himself fending off reporters. "Our kids are as loose as anyone."

Duke hasn't been loose since October. Many of its players have admitted privately that they are upset with Foster for not making public his decision to move.

State Beat Duke, 76-59, when the teams met two weeks ago in Raleigh.

The final game of the day, Virginia Clemson, may be the most interesting. Cavalier Coach Terry Holland said today that cocaptain and starter Mike Owens and reserves Dean Carpenter and Jeff Klein would dress for the game but Terry Gates would start over Owens, as he did Saturday after the three were suspended for talking to a reporter about the team's problems.

Meanwhile, rumors that 7-4 freshman phenom Ralph Sampson will turn pro after this season. The Boston Celtics say they want him -- now.

What Sampson thinks, is a mystery, because Holland still wasn't letting his players talk to the press today.