The Maryland basketball team that meets Duke tonight won't be the same one that has lost five straight Atlantic Coast Conference games, even if Coach Charles G. Driesell has to change every name in the lineup.
Driesell promised wholesale benchings after Maryland's 67-55 loss to North Carolina State Thursday night, starting with tonight's game at Cameron Arena (9 o'clock) against the second-ranked Blue Devils. Duke beat the Terrapins in their conference opener at Cole Field House, 81-75, on Jan. 4, and since then Maryland has slipped to its worst league mark since 1968-69, the season before Driesell arrived.
The Terrapins might take some consolation in the fact that Duke also has lost two straight. But it's not the same thing. Duke's losses have come by a total of 10 points to No. 1 North Carolina (95-92) and No. 4 Georgia Tech (87-80). Maryland, on the other hand, has suffered routs at the hands of unranked Virginia (70-49) and North Carolina State (67-55) in the past week.
"I'm not used to losing, and I don't want anybody on this team to get used to it," Driesell said. "The only bright spot is that we play Duke next and maybe we have a chance to save some face."
Elsewhere, 12th-ranked Georgetown (14-3, 5-2) visits Boston College (11-6, 2-4). The Big East game at Boston Garden matches two pressing defenses. The Eagles are led by forward Roger McCready's 18.9-point average but should be physically outmatched by the Hoyas.
Back in the ACC, the two teams that have beaten Maryland in the last week meet when Virginia (13-4, 3-2) travels to North Carolina State (12-5, 4-2). The Cavaliers have won two in a row, the Wolfpack three straight.
About the only Maryland players who seem guaranteed to start against Duke are all-America forward Len Bias and forward Derrick Lewis, who have not sat down all season. Those who might see less time than they're accustomed to include just about every other upperclassman you'd care to mention, from forward/centers Tom (Speedy) Jones and Terry Long to guards Keith Gatlin and Jeff Baxter.
Driesell is likely to bring back a couple of freshmen in guard John Johnson and center Tony Massenburg, who started six games earlier this season but have been used sparingly in conference games.
"I'm not positive right now who will start," Driesell said. "I'll probably decide right before game time. John and Tony will definitely have more time."
Baxter, with his 16 points against the Wolfpack, did manage to create some opportunities and is perhaps secure. Gatlin would seem to be the most vulnerable to Driesell's threat. His tentative play was a contrast to that of Johnson, who at least was active in his 12 minutes against the Wolfpack, with three points coming in the lane, an assist, a steal and two fouls that proved he was moving around if nothing else.
The Blue Devils, still disappointed over their loss to Georgia Tech Tuesday, cannot afford a loss to the Terrapins if they are to continue to challenge North Carolina and Georgia Tech's control of the conference. Johnny Dawkins continues to lead the scoring, averaging 18.7.
Also, the return of truck-like center Jay Bilas from nagging back and leg injuries gives them back a front court that could once again dominate Maryland -- even without Bilas, Duke led by as many as 18 in the first half at Cole Field House. In that game, the Terrapins managed to rally to within two before allowing Duke to retake control in the waning minutes. That has been the story all along for the Terrapins -- a late fade.
"All the games we've lost," Driesell said, "in the end we just seem to be folding."
Another local team trying to break a losing streak is George Washington (5-10, 0-6), which is in last place in the Atlantic 10 and has dropped seven straight. The Colonials meet injury-ridden Penn State (8-9, 2-6) at Smith Center (4 p.m.).
Perhaps the area's most successful team recently is Howard. The Bison (10-5, 4-0) have won eight in a row going into tonight's game at Delaware State (3-8, 1-2).