Originally created 02/19/03

Battle for first in ACC has different feeling



DURHAM, N.C. -- Maybe a heated game between Maryland and Duke will spark one of the last two NCAA champions.

So far, the No. 8 Blue Devils and No. 13 Terrapins have simply proved inconsistent. Neither is in line for a top seeding in the NCAA tournament, and a No. 2 seeding no guarantee.

Duke (17-4, 7-4) has four losses in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time since 1997. NCAA champion Maryland leads the ACC by a half game but has six losses entering Wednesday night's showdown at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski urges critics to let the season play out.

"We as coaches don't do all the speculation," said Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils earned a No. 1 seeding five years in a row. "We feel by the end someone will have earned (a top seeding) and someone will have earned another seed. You earn it by running the whole race, not what you've done by mid-February."

Krzyzewski took exception when asked why his inexperienced team has fallen off since starting 12-0.

"I don't think we're up and down, we're 17-4," he said. "When you have exceptional years, if that becomes your benchmark, someone can look at this year as being up and down. But we're having a really good year.

"We have a young group that is learning and becoming more and more mature. That's what the season is about. It's not about past seasons. It's about the season you're in. Comparative stuff from season to season is one of the more irrelevant things in sports. You don't have the same team."

Maryland (16-6, 8-3) handed the Blue Devils their worst loss of the season, 87-72, on Jan. 18. Since then, Duke has gone 5-3 and hasn't shown its normal dominance in the ACC, especially on the road. In the previous five years, Duke lost a total of eight league games.

"There are more teams with confidence this year than last year," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "That confidence comes from the fact that nobody has been able to sustain a streak. It seems like when you've played good teams on the road those are the games you've lost.

"There is not a team out there that scares anyone, a team that you wouldn't mind playing one time. The players pick up on that."

But Williams is one who believes Duke hasn't slipped much.

"If anybody thinks Duke won't be around to challenge anybody in the NCAA tournament, they're crazy," Williams said.

Duke has lost four on the road but has won 25 straight in Cameron. The last team to win there was Maryland in February 2001.

"If you are not ready to play you can lose it in the first four minutes because they do get energized from the crowd," Williams said. "If you get through that period and into the first timeout hopefully your players have confidence they can play."

Unlike most teams in the ACC, Maryland can rely on experience, with seniors Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas in the backcourt.

"Blake has been one of the outstanding guards in our conference since I've been here," Krzyzewski said. "He's just steady. He shows up every game. And Nicholas is really what every coach would like and that's a kid who continues to develop over a four-year period ... and when his time comes he shines."