A case could have been made that Gary Williams' Maryland team was the best team in the ACC at the start of last week. Then the Terrapins suffered a nine-point loss at Clemson and immediately descended from the top of the conference standings. Such is life in the ACC - on top one day, fighting in the middle the next.
"I don't think there is a best team in the conference right now," Florida State sophomore guard Deividas Dulkys said. "Everybody is pretty much equal. So we just have to go out there and see what we can do."
The Seminoles (16-5, 4-3 ACC), who are currently fifth in the conference race, are hoping to make a move towards the top when they square off against the Terrapins (14-6, 4-2 ACC) Thursday night at 9 p.m. (Raycom) in Tallahassee. Entering the game, the Seminoles and Terrapins are separated by a half-game in the conference standings in a wide open league race.
"We all realize that someone is going to emerge from the pack and win some games and move themselves forward," Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton. "We all want to be that team."
When the two teams met on January 10th in College Park, the Seminoles were dealt a 77-68 loss.
"We will use it," Hamilton said of the loss. "They were very effective in their defensive approach, doubling up on Solomon, covering down inside. They executed very well and they were patient on offense. They moved us defensively and got a lot of open looks. So we have to look at that and make sure we are a little sounder defensively than we were."
In that previous meeting, Maryland senior Greivis Vasquez scored 22 points and was one of three Terrapins in double figures as the Seminoles defense allowed Maryland to shoot 46.8% from the field and 62.5% from the perimeter, both season-highs allowed by the 'Noles.
"We knew all year long that if you don't come ready to play that you are probably going to lose," junior guard Derwin Kitchen said. "I don't think we came out with the right intensity and they definitely took advantage of it. They shot a very good percentage against us, something like 60% from the three and nearly 50% from the floor in the game. That just isn't what we normally allow a team to do against us.
"They were hot, but we didn't follow our defensive principles," Kitchen added. "We weren't ready to play. We have to prove that we are better than we were then."
Maryland enters the game averaging 75.8 points per game while shooting 45.7% from the floor and 47.6% from the perimeter in conference play, all of which is tops in the conference, with four starters averaging double figures.
The Terrapins are getting it done on both ends of the court though as they are limiting opponents to 65.8 points per game and a league-best 39.0% shooting from the field in conference play.
Florida State, which has won three of its last four, could significantly improves its chances of returning to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament with a pair of strong performances in this two-game homestand. While its focus is on gaining some form of revenge for the January loss at Maryland, the Seminoles realize the broader importance of Thursday's game and Saturday's tilt against Miami, also at home.
"Coming off a road win with the next two games at home, you can put yourself in a real good position if you protect your home court," Kitchen said.
"We have to win first, then we can talk about momentum," Dulkys added. "But I think we are getting there."