Toward the end of the North Carolina dismantling on Sunday afternoon, Maryland fans started chanting "We want Duke", expressing their desire to play the Terps' archrivals. They seemed to forget about the under-the-radar Virginia Cavaliers, whom, instead of Duke, sit next on MD's schedule. Bad idea.
It would be wrong to think that UVA is significantly less important than Duke, because, in addition to the Cavs actually being pretty good this year, from a tournament and standings standpoint, it isn't. A win over Duke would be great for a number of reasons, and it would be a quality win on the road. As it stands now, though, that just doesn't seem likely, so you take what you can get. And if they happen to lose at Cameron on Saturday, a loss earlier in the week would be a lot more crippling. A win at Cameron would be great, but if it was preceded by a loss it would do little more than make up lost ground.
It's also worth noting that the way Maryland has gotten to the point they're at is by beating teams they're supposed to beat. "Inconsistent" is a bad word around tournament time, but it goes past that: one wouldn't expect the formula to change anytime soon. In other words, I'm not as confident that Maryland would be able to pull off a surprise road upset this year as in year's past - they just don't seem as volatile, at least not in ACC play.
Back to the topic at hand: Maryland enters the week just a half game behind Duke in the standings, and only a game ahead of Virginia. Nestled right in between a darkhorse contender and a runaway favorite, the games are great heat checks for Maryland's current standing, not unlike the two previous road games against Clemson and Florida State, and are dearly important for UMD's hopes at a regular season title.
Virginia is a dangerous team this year, which is why the prospect of a trap game is more worrisome than usual. The Cavs are a different squad under Tony Bennett, more motivated and efficient offensively. Of course, they still have Sylven Landesberg, a surprising All-ACC contender, and he can make life difficult for anyone. I'll try to get some more on him tomorrow.
Like I said above, losing to UVA would either nearly negate a Duke win or compound the issues of a Duke loss. Win one of these games and they're still on the fringes of the ACC hunt and still on the good side of the bubble. Lose both and the situation gets more sticky - it'll depend on how bad the losses are. Pull off nothing short of a miracle and win both, and, well, regular season ACC champs become a possibility.
Any way you slice it, the Virginia game is as important as the Duke game at this point, and both hold extreme importance in their ACC impact - every game at this point does, but these two do especially because they're both against contenders and both against rivals.
(While we're on this topic, I'll mention one thing: if Maryland were to be in a tie with Duke for first place at the end of the year and split the head-to-head battle, the next tiebreaker would be the record against the next highest team. Seeing how N.C. State won't get up that high, Maryland will be rooting for Georgia Tech the rest of the way - except on Feb. 20, of course.)