Back in October, this was projected to be the game in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the regular season.

Instead, when Maryland and North Carolina take the court at Cole Field House today at 1 p.m. (WRC-TV-4), they will be playing for third place in the conference, not first. They will be playing to help insure an NCAA bid, not to warm up for one. And, they will be playing to dim memories of the latest two weeks, which have been embarrassing for both.

The Terrapins (6-4, 16-6) came out of a four-game slumber Thursday, to beat Clemson, 72-70. Before that, they dropped two straight conference games on the road and showed all the intensity of a hibernating bear.

The Tar Heels (7-3, 18-6) played what was the game of the ACC season 12 days ago, and blew it. They had top-ranked Virginia down by 11 points with five minutes left, but lost in overtime.

If that wasn't humiliating enough for a team that prides itself on poise, Wake Forest marched into Carmichael Auditorium Wednesday and blew Carolina out of the building, winning, 84-68, after leading by as many as 30 points.

Tar Heel Coach Dean Smith doesn't take performances like that lightly and today Carolina is expected to come out flying against Maryland.

On the other side of the court, Terrapin Coach Lefty Driesell, while pleased with Albert King's return to the living Thursday (28 points), knows his team still has problems.

One games does not mean King is back in form and the point-guard situation is more unsettled than ever. Reggie Jackson, Steve Rivers, Dutch Morley and Greg Manning all played there Thursday, with Rivers showing quickness and a willingness to shoot the jumper; he hit four of nine from the floor.

Driesell may not be willing to start Rivers in a game like this but he will probably get him in early, especially if Carolina's quickness gives the Terps back-court trouble, as it did the first time these teams met, a Tar Heel victory in Chapel Hill.

"I'm not sure what I'm going to do at point," Driesell said. "He (Rivers) will definitely do some playing against Carolina."

Smith, who constantly talks about other teams having psychological advantages coming off losses, has one today because of his team's embarrassment against Wake Forest. "The only psychological edge we have," Smith said, "is being the underdog."

Why Smith considers his 10th-ranked team the underdog against the 19th-ranked Terps is uncertain, but all coaches play up an opponent.

Still, Smith may have reached a new high, or low, in the "build-up-the-opposition" game when he commented that, "Maryland has gotten very good leadership from its point guards."

Since neither Driesell nor any of the point guards know which of them will play or when, that's an amazing statement.

To win today, Maryland must handle the Carolina pressure defense, get another good game from King and work the ball inside to Buck Williams, something it has not done lately.

The Tar Heels need a good game from freshma Sam Perkins against Williams, some decent outside shooting from their often-cold guards against who promises to be an oft-seen Maryland zone, and emotion, something they lacked Wednesday.