Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell said yesterday he expects his team to be in the NCAA championship tournament, no matter what happens this week in Atlantic Coast Conference games at North Carolina State and Virginia.

"If we aren't one of the best 52 teams in the nation then I don't know anything about basketball," Driesell said.

Asked if he believes Maryland must win at N.C. State Thursday or at Virginia Sunday to get a bid, Driesell said, "No, I personally don't think we do. I don't think there are 52 teams better than us in the country, even if we don't win this week. I think we've already proven ourselves."

Driesell's belief is based on the fact that Maryland is 18-7 overall and 7-5 in the ACC, with victories over at least six teams that will probably be invited to the tournament, which begins in two weeks.

Driesell said that if he were on the NCAA selection committee, he would take five teams from the ACC. But the NCAA is more likely to select three, four at the most, in large part because of the overall strength of the Big East, Southeastern and Big Ten conferences.

There is also the fact that Maryland has not been ranked this season in the wire services' top-20 polls.

"I don't know why we aren't ranked," Driesell said. "I look at the top 20 and we're better than a lot of teams in there." Ohio State and Georgetown are the only teams in this week's Associated Press poll that have lost seven games.

In previous years, 20 victories nearly guaranteed an NCAA invitation. But going into the last 10 days of this season, 30 teams have won 20 or more and 29 have won 18 or 19.

Also, several teams that will not win 20 games will receive strong consideration. Seven teams in the Southeastern Conference can claim to be among the best 52 in the nation, as can such independents as De Paul, Notre Dame, New Orleans, Marquette and Dayton.

What could make things even more difficult for Maryland, should it not win another game or two, is the possibility of upsets in conference tournaments. The number of available at-large bids will be reduced if teams that would normally not receive those bids--for example, Alabama, Navy, George Mason and Georgia Tech--win their conference tournaments to gain automatic admission and thus throw the tournament favorites into the hopper for at-large consideration.

Driesell pointed out that the selection committee also looks at strength of schedule. "We've beaten William and Mary, which won its conference (ECAC South), Old Dominion, which won its conference (Sun Belt), UCLA, Notre Dame, and every team in the ACC except Virginia."