There isn't likely to be a better Saturday for local college basketball than today. Duke is at Maryland. Syracuse is at Georgetown. And, with first place in the Colonial Athletic Association on the line, Richmond is at George Mason.
George Mason is a game ahead of Richmond for the CAA lead and a victory in tonight's game at 8 at the Patriot Center would give the Patriots a leg up on the regular season title and the top seed in the conference tournament.
At 5-5 in the Big East, Georgetown (15-6 overall) is a long way from first place, but the rivalry with Syracuse might be its best. The Orangemen (18-5, 7-3) will arrive at Capital Centre for the 2 p.m. game looking to avenge an earlier loss to the Hoyas. In that one, Georgetown's Charles Smith made an off-balance scoop shot at the buzzer for a 69-68 win.
Duke will also be looking to even a score when it meets Maryland at 9 at Cole Field House. On Jan. 16, Maryland played probably its best game of the season, winning at Duke, 72-69. The victory was the first Atlantic Coast Conference road win for Coach Bob Wade and it gave the Terrapins confidence in close games against good teams.
"We've got to hit over 40 percent and I hope we're as good defensively," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "But we need to play smarter and get off to a better start."
The sixth-ranked Blue Devils (17-3) are coming off a 98-67 rout of Wake Forest Thursday night. That victory left them in a first-place tie with North Carolina at 6-2.
With its 70-66 victory over Clemson Wednesday night, Maryland raised its record to 13-7, 4-4. The odd thing about the Terrapins is that they have lost their last three home games -- North Carolina, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech.
"I don't know what it is about Cole Field House," said guard Rudy Archer. "We just haven't played well there."
Duke probably has the ACC's deepest team. Krzyzewski usually uses nine players for at least 10 minutes each.
Depth may become a crucial factor in tonight's game. Maryland freshman center Brian Williams missed the last two games with a sprained left ankle. He shot some on Thursday and practiced yesterday, but still was favoring the ankle. Williams probably will be in uniform, but it's unclear how effective he will be.
"I don't know," Coach Bob Wade said yesterday when asked if Williams would play. "We let him do some things and run on the side. We'll treat him this evening and tomorrow and see how he feels."
If it's February, it normally means Georgetown is peaking. But the Hoyas are only 1-2 in the month after beating Seton Hall Tuesday, and now play Syracuse, Villanova, Pittsburgh and St. John's in succession. Georgetown has scrambled offensively, going to an offense in which Smith is the focal point.
Hoyas Coach John Thompson said the change isn't an abandonment of Georgetown's team concept on offense, but "getting the ball to the player who's capable of scoring." Once the Hoyas took the lead in the victory over the Pirates, they used a succession of screens in a four-corner offense to get Smith the ball.
The 11th-ranked Orangemen (19-5, 7-3 and third in the conference) have won five straight games by an average of more than 15 points since losing to Georgetown Jan. 24. The closest game was Wednesday's 84-75 victory at fifth-ranked Pittsburgh.
Sophomore Matt Roe, who had been a spark early in the season, had 25 points against the Panthers. But junior guard Sherman Douglas, from Spingarn High, has been phenomenal the past few games. He scored 12 of Syracuse's last 15 points against Pittsburgh, had 22 against St. John's last Saturday with nine assists, and scored 17 points with 13 assists against Providence Feb. 2.
For Georgetown to win, the Hoyas will have to keep Douglas in check, and get the kind of inside play they had in the first Syracuse game, when Ben Gillery scored a career-high 11 points, Perry McDonald had 12 and Anthony Tucker had 10.
Against Seton Hall, McDonald recovered a little from a recent slump, scoring 10 points. He was the recipient of a Thompson talking-to before the game.
"I told him," Thompson said, "he had been a major contributor and that he wasn't a freshman who's having to prove that he can play."