The second year of the ACC-Big East Challenge begins tonight in Richmond and once again coaches in both conferences aren't quite sure whether the series is something they want to deal with in early December.

"It's another difficult game, but I want to do what's best for the Big East," said Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino. "If this is what the Big East wants, then I'm behind it 100 percent."

Last season's series, which finished four games each, was regarded as a mixed success. Though many of the games were scintillating (five decided by eight points or less), many people also remember high ticket prices and subsequent small-sized crowds even more.

This year the series has moved to home sites to stimulate attendance. Maryland draws Boston College, which as the ninth-seeded team in the Big East sat out last season's series, tonight at the Richmond Coliseum. That game will be preceded by Virginia against Pittsburgh.

The series continues Tuesday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse with Clemson against Seton Hall and the Orangemen hosting North Carolina State. On Wednesday, St. John's meets Georgia Tech and Georgetown takes on Duke at Capital Centre. The series concludes Thursday at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., with Wake Forest against Villanova and North Carolina against Connecticut in a battle of top-seeded teams.

Maryland's game could involve a little extra emotion on both sides. Terrapins Coach Gary Williams formerly coached the Eagles; Boston College may be eager to prove it should have been included a year ago.

In a conference call of participating coaches last week, Jim O'Brien of Boston College said, "We haven't even discussed the Challenge series or talked for one second about Maryland.

"I think it's hard to play a game like this. There's a lot of intensity for early in the season and I'm not sure if all that's good for a young team. It takes time to get good and play games of this magnitude."

This past week -- when North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech all lost to supposedly inferior teams while Connecticut and Pitt struggled to win -- only proves O'Brien's point. But that's also something of a short-term view.

Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun, pointing out that the Huskies signed players from Arizona, California and Florida in part because of the nationwide television exposure from the series, sees the competition as worthwhile.

Added St. John's Lou Carnesecca, "You've got two leagues that already get attention getting even more, and {high school} kids like to see things like that happening for themselves down the line."

Also in favor of the series is Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who said he prefers playing these types of games because it approximates what quality squads will have to go through later in the season at NCAA tournament time.

"Each year you have a new team and you have to learn to win, to develop different styles, even to react to losses," said Krzyzewski, whose team played Arkansas in the preseason NIT and also has nonconference dates against Michigan, Oklahoma, Louisiana State and Arizona.

"The opportunity to play Georgetown now is tremendous for us. We'll see where we need to go. We have a chance to try to exploit some things and make adjustments to what will be best for us later."

Maryland's Williams might agree. The Terrapins are 2-1, beating Towson State and Southern Cal before dropping a 90-85 decision at West Virginia on Saturday.

In last season's Challenge series game against Connecticut, Maryland was decimated by the Huskies' pressure defense, losing, 87-65. Williams said that won't happen this year because "I don't think we'll see any better pressure than West Virginia used against us."

Maryland committed 18 turnovers against the Mountaineers, many converted into easy points by the home team. The Terrapins, who start 6-8 Walt Williams and 6-6 Matt Roe at guard, have committed 56 turnovers thus far.

"I'm used to having the quick guards going against the bigger guys. This is a different experience for me," said Gary Williams. "Hopefully we learned some things."

One thing that pleased Williams was the play of sophomore guard Kevin McLinton, who scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against the Mountaineers.

That kept the Terrapins in the game while Walt Williams (seven points) struggled with foul trouble.

Gary Williams thinks that proved a point. "A lot of people thought that if Walt Williams got into foul trouble that would be the end of the game for Maryland," he said. "I hope Kevin's game puts an end to that theory."