Duke is aloof, Wake Forest is desperate. Virginia and North Carolina State are dangerously grim. Maryland is quiet and North Carolina is hiding. But they're all here in the general vicinity of Greensboro Coliseum, ready to get on with the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament.
Some teams, such as the Terrapins, may have NCAA bids at stake, and some, such as the fourth-ranked Tar Heels, are looking for something they lost. Regardless, the 33rd annual ACC tournament will be three days of emotional acrobatics starting Friday. All-Americas will figure heavily, records will be irrelevant and upsets are to be counted on.
"It's time to pass around some trophies, cut down some nets, all that fun stuff," said Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell.
The sixth-seeded Terrapins (17-12, 6-8) meet the third-seeded Tar Heels (26-4, 10-4) at 9 p.m. in a game that has perhaps the best upset potential of the tournament.
Top-seeded Duke (29-2, 12-2), the No. 1 team in the country and winner of the regular-season race, will open against last-place Wake Forest (8-20, 0-14) at noon.
Fifth-seeded North Carolina State (18-11, 7-7) meets fourth-seeded Virginia (18-9, 7-7) at 2 p.m., and second-seeded and sixth-ranked Georgia Tech (23-5, 11-3) will open the night session against seventh-seeded Clemson (17-13, 3-11) at 7.
All the games have intriguing individual matchups. Among them are a back-court meeting of Duke's Johnny Dawkins against Wake Forest's Tyrone Bogues, a collision of centers in Virginia's Olden Polynice and N.C. State's Chris Washburn, and a duel of forwards in Georgia Tech's John Salley and Clemson's Horace Grant.
But in a tournament that probably will be decided by individual showdowns, none is more fascinating than ACC player of the year Len Bias going against the Tar Heels' relentless man-to-man defense. The Terrapins already have one upset of the Tar Heels to think back on, a 77-72 victory at Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center Feb. 20, in which Bias scored 35 points.
"It's not what we do to Maryland," said forward Curtis Hunter, "it's what we do to Len Bias."
Bias has gotten used to being targeted by defenses. Facing every sort of combination, he nevertheless averages 23.1 points to lead the conference. He should set the Maryland career scoring record early in the game, as he needs only seven points to pass Albert King's mark of 2,058.
"I don't care who they want to stop," he said. "It doesn't matter. They're not going to stop me."
The upset at Chapel Hill sent the Tar Heels, once top-ranked, on a final spin as they lost three of their last four games. Maryland finished by winning six of its last eight. The Terrapins have found a more complete offense, with four scorers averaging in double figures over the last four games. North Carolina also has injury problems.
Although most conference teams have played a combination defense against Bias, the Tar Heels have stayed with a revolving cast. But Steve Hale is still recovering from a partially collapsed lung, and reserve forward/center Warren Martin is doubtful with a sprained ankle. Both injuries were suffered in the last meeting with the Terrapins.
That undermines the Tar Heels' depth and complicates their defensive problems. Hale is expected to play but will only be used for 20 to 30 minutes. Formerly the heart of the defense, he cannot be expected to keep up with Bias. Instead, Bias will probably see forward Joe Wolf the most, with Brad Daugherty, Hunter and Dave Popson helping out.
"It's okay if Bias scores 40," said Coach Dean Smith, who elected to keep the team in Chapel Hill and commute to the tournament. "As long as he scores it shooting 20 of 40."
The Terrapins don't expect anything new from the Tar Heels, who are nothing if not consistent. "They're predictable, but what they do, they do well," Driesell said. "They won't do anything different. They're going to run, jump, trap and press."
Duke's meeting with Wake Forest appears to be a mismatch, but it holds the potential for another electrifying one-on-one show. Wake Forest is a virtual solo act with 5-foot-3 Bogues, the conference leader in assists (8.4 a game). He is the Demon Deacons' only hope against the Blue Devils' depth in players such as all-Americas Dawkins (20.9 points per game) and Mark Alarie (17.9).
"Sure, I think we have a realistic chance," Coach Bob Staak said. "Especially if Dawkins and Alarie don't get on the bus."
Duke got a scare today when point guard Tommy Amaker slightly sprained the Achilles' tendon in his left foot during practice. He did not practice, and although he is listed as likely, he will not be at full strength. That puts more emphasis on the Dawkins-Bogues encounter; the former will try to push the ball upcourt, and the latter will try to slow down the tempo to keep the Demon Deacons in it.
"I think it's good for Johnny to have to play Bogues at this point, because no one is going to put more pressure on him than he will," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. "Neither one will make it easy on the other."
Georgia Tech-Clemson also seems to be a mismatch. But the defending champion Yellow Jackets -- like North Carolina, seeking a top seed in a regional -- have their weak moments, and Clemson can be dangerously streaky. Interestingly, Georgia Tech has never won a game in Greensboro Coliseum.
Grant tends to set the mood for Clemson; he leads the conference in rebounds (10.4) and averages 15.7 points. That puts the burden on 7-foot Salley, who has been a sometime player for the Yellow Jackets, averaging 13.3 points, with a tendency to disappear defensively.
If any one game promises more drama than the others, it is probably the Virginia-North Carolina State contest. It offers the prospect of two of the conference's premier centers in 6-11 junior Polynice and 6-11 sophomore Washburn, who Virginia Coach Terry Holland calls "the players of the future."
Polynice averages 16.4 points and eight rebounds, Washburn 17.3 points and 6.8 rebounds. Polynice has the edge; he scored 49 points as the teams split their two regular-season meetings, while Washburn was held to 34.
"I'm not looking forward to this," Polynice said. "But I have to do it. He's the best big man I've gone against, he's strong and he's agile. I wish I didn't have to do this."
This one also has some larger significance. Both teams have 18 victories and have lurked in the second tier of the conference, overshadowed by Duke, Georgia Tech and North Carolina. Although both are expected to receive NCAA bids, the victor would be certain of one.
"I think you have to consider it a must win for both of us," said Holland. "The team that wins knows they're in the NCAAs. The other one will have to wait around and hope."