After six weeks of sometimes interesting matchups, but mainly mismatches that resulted in margins seemingly as large as the national debt, the college basketball season will enter the second of its three stages -- conference play -- this weekend.

As Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said on the eve of his undefeated, third-ranked Blue Devils' Atlantic Coast Conference game at Maryland tonight (WJLA-TV-7 at 9), "We're 1-0 in the league and they're 0-0. There are only 14 (league) games. So you better win while you can. To win any conference game is as important as the other. You can't count on anybody else beating somebody for you. You have to beat them."

Terrapins Coach Charles G. Driesell referred to his team's schedule so far as "the rehearsal before the play. And we've done fairly well in rehearsal." Maryland is 9-2, losing only to Ohio State and Nevada-Las Vegas. Though generally pleased with his team's play, Driesell said yesterday the ACC schedule doesn't favor his young team at this point.

"With a young team," he said, "I'd rather play Duke and North Carolina (which will come to Cole Field House Jan. 14) on the road early because with a lot of freshmen, we'll be better in February then we are now. Or at least I hope so. And you've got to win some of those home games."

Today's first full day of conference play presents an interesting menu for local fans, with Maryland and Virginia each at home against ACC favorites. Virginia plays host to sixth-ranked Georgia Tech at 4 p.m. (WJLA-TV-7), and Georgetown is at home at Capital Centre for a 2 p.m. Big East Conference game against Providence, off to its best start in years and under a new coach, Rick Pitino.

Four of the area's other five Division I teams will open their league schedules.

The most intriguing -- and perhaps surprising -- matchup among these will be Navy, the Colonial Athletic Association favorite, against upstart UNC-Wilmington before a rare sellout of 6,100 at Trask Coliseum in Wilmington. In other CAA games, it will be American at East Carolina and George Mason at James Madison.

George Washington, in its first Atlantic 10 game under John Kuester, will play at the University of Massachusetts at 3 p.m. in Amherst where the venerable Curry Hicks Cage, one of the true pits of college basketball, has been modernized.

Howard, the only area team not opening league play today, will be at Campbell at 7:30.

Duke (11-0) brings a team to Maryland that is more local than many local teams, with four of the Blue Devils' top seven players from the Washington area. Starting guard Johnny Dawkins (18.6 points per game, second in the ACC) is from Washington and starting guard Tommy Amaker (6.9 assists per game, third in the ACC) is from Fairfax. Freshman Danny Ferry, the starting center (a team-leading 7.1 rebounds per game) is from Crofton. Top reserve Billy King, from Park View High in Sterling, plays a lot.

Dawkins, especially, has feasted in College Park, averaging 27 points in his three appearances here.

"Dawkins is as good a guard as there is in the country," Driesell said. "Both of them (Dawkins and Amaker) are really point guards, so neither is a weak ball handler. Dawkins is a great scorer. Amaker is very solid, doesn't turn it over, doesn't force it. Johnny will sometimes take a bad shot, but Amaker knows his limitations and plays within them. They're very complementary. It will help if we can get either of them in foul trouble, because there is a big drop-off. So when Dawkins is driving, we're going to try and take a few charges."

Krzyzewski has been especially satisfied with Ferry, from DeMatha High, especially since Jay Bilas, who started at center last season, missed the first six games with tendinitis. "It's something for a freshman to be your leading rebounder," Krzyzewski said. "Ferry's background lends itself to an easier transition. If he wasn't playing as well as he did early, Basketball Gets Serious Today Conference Play Begins By Mark Asher Washington Post Staff Writer

After six weeks of sometimes interesting matchups, but mainly mismatches that resulted in margins seemingly as large as the national debt, the college basketball season will enter the second of its three stages -- conference play -- this weekend.

As Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said on the eve of his undefeated, third-ranked Blue Devils' Atlantic Coast Conference game at Maryland tonight (WJLA-TV-7 at 9), "We're 1-0 in the league and they're 0-0. There are only 14 (league) games. So you better win while you can. To win any conference game is as important as the other. You can't count on anybody else beating somebody for you. You have to beat them."

Terrapins Coach Charles G. Driesell referred to his team's schedule so far as "the rehearsal before the play. And we've done fairly well in rehearsal." Maryland is 9-2, losing only to Ohio State and Nevada-Las Vegas. Though generally pleased with his team's play, Driesell said yesterday the ACC schedule doesn't favor his young team at this point.

"With a young team," he said, "I'd rather play Duke and North Carolina (which will come to Cole Field House Jan. 14) on the road early because with a lot of freshmen, we'll be better in February then we are now. Or at least I hope so. And you've got to win some of those home games."

Today's first full day of conference play presents an interesting menu for local fans, with Maryland and Virginia each at home against ACC favorites. Virginia plays host to sixth-ranked Georgia Tech at 4 p.m. (WJLA-TV-7), and Georgetown is at home at Capital Centre for a 2 p.m. Big East Conference game against Providence, off to its best start in years and under a new coach, Rick Pitino.

Four of the area's other five Division I teams will open their league schedules.

The most intriguing -- and perhaps surprising -- matchup among these will be Navy, the Colonial Athletic Association favorite, against upstart UNC-Wilmington before a rare sellout of 6,100 at Trask Coliseum in Wilmington. In other CAA games, it will be American at East Carolina and George Mason at James Madison.

George Washington, in its first Atlantic 10 game under John Kuester, will play at the University of Massachusetts at 3 p.m. in Amherst where the venerable Curry Hicks Cage, one of the true pits of college basketball, has been modernized.

Howard, the only area team not opening league play today, will be at Campbell at 7:30.

Duke (11-0) brings a team to Maryland that is more local than many local teams, with four of the Blue Devils' top seven players from the Washington area. Starting guard Johnny Dawkins (18.6 points per game, second in the ACC) is from Washington and starting guard Tommy Amaker (6.9 assists per game, third in the ACC) is from Fairfax. Freshman Danny Ferry, the starting center (a team-leading 7.1 rebounds per game) is from Crofton. Top reserve Billy King, from Park View High in Sterling, plays a lot.

Dawkins, especially, has feasted in College Park, averaging 27 points in his three appearances here.

"Dawkins is as good a guard as there is in the country," Driesell said. "Both of them (Dawkins and Amaker) are really point guards, so neither is a weak ball handler. Dawkins is a great scorer. Amaker is very solid, doesn't turn it over, doesn't force it. Johnny will sometimes take a bad shot, but Amaker knows his limitations and plays within them. They're very complementary. It will help if we can get either of them in foul trouble, because there is a big drop-off. So when Dawkins is driving, we're going to try and take a few charges."

Krzyzewski has been especially satisfied with Ferry, from DeMatha High, especially since Jay Bilas, who started at center last season, missed the first six games with tendinitis. "It's something for a freshman to be your leading rebounder," Krzyzewski said. "Ferry's background lends itself to an easier transition. If he wasn't playing as well as he did early, we wouldn't be undefeated right now."

A year ago, Duke came to College Park early in the season under similar circumstances -- undefeated and ranked second nationally -- and lost in overtime, 78-76. This year, the Blue Devils have even better credentials, having defeated Kansas, St. John's and Alabama-Birmingham in the Big Apple NIT.

The big test for Maryland will be the reaction of freshmen Tony Massenburg and Johnny Johnson to their first ACC games. The pair have started the last four games, although Driesell said yesterday he might start Speedy Jones instead of Massenburg because of better defensive matchups. Johnson was named ACC rookie of the week for his 16 points against Hawaii-Pacific and his game-winning basket in double overtime against Stanford. Said Driesell: "I hope he's rookie of the week next week."

In Charlottesville, Virginia Coach Terry Holland will be looking for aggressive play from his offense. The Cavaliers (8-3 overall and 0-1 in the ACC) are struggling. Holland recently benched guard Darrick Simms (32.5 percent field goal accuracy, 26 turnovers versus 20 assists), moving forward Mel Kennedy to the back court and starting junior-college transfer Drew Kennedy.

"We're playing in bits and spurts," said Holland, whose team missed every jump shot beyond 12 feet in losing to Richmond. "We're playing not to lose. We've got to be more aggressive on offense. Unless we play aggressive offensive at every position and play to win, we'll have trouble beating a team like Georgia Tech."

Navy's game against UNC-Wilmington will present one of the few even matchups for David Robinson, the Midshipmen's 6-foot-11 junior center. He will be facing Brian Rowsom, a 6-9 junior who is averaging 20.4 points and 9.3 rebounds a game despite a two-point performance against Tennessee recently when he was injured early in the game.

But the Seahawks' main concern is not Robinson, but power forward Vernon Butler, with whom they have no one to match up. If they can keep up with Butler, then they have a strong chance at the upset. They are 7-2 this season, having lost to Tennessee (85-57) and Virginia Commonwealth by a point in their opener.