North Carolina State opened its Atlantic Coast Conference season with a home win over Clemson and a road victory over Georgia Tech. That put N.C. State's overall record at 10-2 and sent the Wolfpack into the top 20. Big deal, huh? A contender for the league title, maybe? Not so fast. In the following seven days, the Wolfpack lost to a weak Wake Forest team then to North Carolina at home.

Maryland went to Durham, N.C. Jan. 16 and upset then-No. 7 Duke. Could this be an early sign that Maryland is as good as anybody? Well, four days later, in their only game since defeating the Blue Devils, the Terrapins went to Charlottesville, were as flat as the floor and lost by 12 points to Virginia.

Maryland and N.C. State will meet tonight at 9 at Cole Field House and the Terrapins' Derrick Lewis probably put each team's situation in perspective when he said, "We need to be a lot more consistent before we're labeled as one of the better teams in the ACC."

The same might be said of the Georgetown Hoyas, who ended a three-game Big East Conference losing streak Sunday when Charles Smith tossed in a shot with one second left to defeat Syracuse. The second loss in that streak was a 68-66 loss to Boston College at Boston Garden. Tonight at 8 at Capital Centre, the Hoyas (12-4 overall, 2-3 in the Big East) will get another shot at the Eagles.

"I think we have to remember," Georgetown Coach John Thompson said, "that even though beating Syracuse at Syracuse was an enormous victory, any team in the Big East is capable of beating you. Boston College has already proven they are capable of beating us."

The Eagles (11-6, 3-4) defeated the Hoyas on a last-second shot by Dana Barrows, who is leading the Big East in scoring with an average of 22.2 points per game. He has made at least one three-point shot in each of his last 25 games.

Thompson said his biggest concern is that his team, which does not have a wealth of talented or tall front court players, is tired. This has forced more juggling of an already juggled lineup.

"Right now, it's late in the year but we're not set in our combinations," Thompson said. "We're searching for the right combinations and that brings on some inconsistency."

In other games, American will be at George Mason; Navy hosts James Madison and Virginia, which has won two straight ACC games, plays non-conference opponent Virginia Tech in Roanoke, Va.

Maryland (10-5 overall; 3-2 in the ACC) is getting back to conference play after a week off.

"The week off was good in that we worked on some things and we did a lot of things wrong in the Virginia game," Maryland Coach Bob Wade said. "We utilized the time and corrected them.

"We've got to do a better job of getting the ball inside to our big people. Sometimes we do a fantastic job. Other times we forget about our big people. We have to get them involved as early as possible."

The offensive adjustment involves Derrick Lewis working inside more.

"I think they wanted to go back to a couple of things we did last year," said the 6-foot-7 Lewis, who was the Terrapins center last year when they were 0-14 in the ACC. "We made the change this year {to having Lewis work outside} and I've been scoring most of my points on garbage baskets or throwing up three-pointers.

"Basically, they wanted more scoring from me and for me to get more involved in the offense," said Lewis, who is averaging 14.4 points per game. "They said that when I don't score or shoot, I have a tendency to stand around and disappear. I've increased my assists {second on the team with 42}, though I don't have as many blocks {2.5 per game compared to 4.4 last year} because I'm playing outside more. But we do have four people in double figures and that helps the team win, even if I don't score 20 points every night."

Sometimes 6-10 center Brian Williams and 6-9 forward Tony Massenburg are down low with Lewis and sometimes they are away from the basket. The combination seemed to work well against Duke, which played tight man-to-man defense and matched up evenly in terms of height. However, its did not work so well against Virginia, which sagged more on defense to make up for a height disadvantage. In Maryland's loss to the Cavaliers, Lewis took nine shots in the first half, while Williams and Massenburg combined for just six.

"In the Virginia game, we didn't execute it as it was supposed to be executed," Lewis said. "If we go through the whole rotation, we'll get the ball to the other two big guys inside and there will be a lot more balance as opposed to Virginia where I took a lot of the shots."

The Wolfpack won the ACC tournament last year at Capital Centre and most of that team returns. Forward Chucky Brown is the team's leading scorer at 16.8 points per game; off-guard Vinny Del Negro is scoring 16.4; center Charles Shackleford 15.6. Freshman point guard Chris Corchiani, who is averaging 6.1 points and 6.4 assists in a predominantly reserve role, may start in place of Quentin Jackson, who twisted his ankle Monday in practice.

Shackleford, a 6-10, 225-pound junior, has had an up-and-down career, but he seems to be playing well lately. He scored 26 points Sunday in the Wolfpack's 77-73 loss to North Carolina.

"The curse of being Italian," N.C. State Coach Jim Valvano said recently, "is that everybody thinks you can sing. The curse of being a 6-10 center is that everybody thinks you should get 25 points and 10 rebounds every time out. As I know, both assumptions are incorrect."