"Last year at this time we were the nation's Cinderella team," Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell said the other day. "This year we're the garbage team of the nation."
Still, the Terrapins know they can salvage the season by winning the ACC tournament, or winning enough games to get an NCAA bid. And Thursday night, without so much as making a layup, the Terps got a break that could help them accomplish that feat.
Thank you, North Carolina State.
That's what Driesell and company were undoubtedly thinking after the Wolfpack upset Duke, 52-51. The reason?[WORDS ILLEGIBLE] into sixth place, a spot they are unlikely to move from by the end of the regular season next Saturday. That means they will play the third-seeded team when the ACC Tournament begins March 5.
If they had beaten State, the Devils probably would have edged Clemson for fifth place in the final standings. That would have set up a first-round game for Duke with the No. 4-seeded team.
That team, barring a miracle, will be Maryland. Now, instead of opening with Duke, the Terps likely will open with Clemson. Over the past four seasons the Terps are 10-1 against the Tigers. Clemson plays the game the way the Terps like to play -- fast.
Over the last four years the Terrapins are 3-7 against Duke, 0-6 away from Cole Field House. The Blue Devils play the way the Terps hate to play -- slow.
Only one thing is certain right now about the opening day of the tournament.
At 1:30 p.m., in the tournament's second game, top-seeded Virginia will play last-seeded Georgia Tech in a 1981 replay of the Lions versus the Christians.
The tournament's opening game at 11 a.m. probably will match Duke and Wake Forest. Right now the Deacons and North Carolina are tied for second at 8-3 but the deacs have to play at Maryland and N.C. State and home against Virginia.
The Tar Heels get Clemson at home and Duke and Georgia Tech on the road. Look for them to finish second -- the 15th straight year they have been first or second -- and play in the 7 p.m. game that night against State (3-9 in the league) in what could be the day's best game. The last game that first day, at 9:30 p.m., will likely be the Terps (6-5 going into today's 3 p.m. game with Clemson (5-7). If form holds, it will be Virgnia-Maryland and North Carolina-Wake in the semifinals.
Virginia will represent the league in the NCAA East Regional, regardless of what happens in the tournament. North Carolina and Wake Forest, each with 20 victories, will head to other regionals. Maryland probably needs at least 18 victories to make the NCAA field. That means winning two of three -- Wake, at State, at Virginia -- in the regular season or winning one of three and at least one in the tournament. That's why getting Clemson instead of Duke the first day could be a significant break.