The good news for Maryland is that it will enter the men's basketball season with a No. 15 ranking in the Associated Press preseason top 25, which was released yesterday. The bad news: Four ACC teams were rated higher.

The ACC, expected to possess unmatched talent this season, features six top 20 teams, including three of the nation's top four: Wake Forest (second), Georgia Tech (third), North Carolina (fourth), Duke (11th), Maryland and North Carolina State (19th). No other conference had more than four teams ranked.

"I think you could put several ACC teams in a bushel, shake them around and one team would be number two," said Demon Deacons Coach Skip Prosser, whose team received three fewer first-place votes than top-ranked Kansas.

Maryland, which will open the season against Jackson State on Nov. 19, has back four starters from the team that won the ACC tournament last season. Yet the Terps are considered almost a middle-of-the pack ACC team this year. "We're used to it," point guard John Gilchrist said. "We're used to being the underdogs and not being expected to go far."

Three of Maryland's potential nonconference opponents this season were ranked -- No. 24 Memphis, No. 21 Wisconsin and No. 13 Michigan State, which could face the Terps in the BB&T Classic at MCI Center. Another possible Terps opponent in next month's BB&T Classic, George Washington, which has back all five starters and was picked as the favorite in the Atlantic 10 West, was unranked but received six votes.

Combined, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and North Carolina have 14 of 15 starters returning, including three of the country's best point guards. Demon Deacons sophomore Chris Paul was selected by the media as the favorite to win conference player of the year honors. North Carolina's Raymond Felton will complement a full arsenal of returning starters, not to mention Marvin Williams, arguably the best freshman in the country. And Georgia Tech's Jarrett Jack will steward a squad that reached last year's national title game.

The ACC's strength could prompt controversy come March. Several league coaches, including Maryland's Gary Williams, said the ACC could deserve seven berths in the 65-team NCAA tournament, a stance multiple coaches from mid-major conferences took exception to last week.

"The Big Ten in the past has gotten seven," Williams said. "They always said, 'Well, we have more teams.' We have more teams now [with the addition of Miami and Virginia Tech] so if we have seven that deserve to go, that should happen. Supposedly the best teams go."