Many times in college hoops, teams are forced to start without players who are expected to make a positive impact on the season. Such was the case at the University of Maryland, where two important players were off the floor at the beginning of the year. The return of Pe’Shon Howard, and the appearance of Alex Len through three games have given way to raised expectations for the Terps going forward. Before Howard’s return from a broken foot and Len’s joining the team after a ten-game suspension, Maryland struggled to beat teams many figured they should beat and lost badly to teams where they were outmanned. Nevertheless, after last night’s win over Cornell, the Terrapins stood at 10-3 with a 7-game winning streak-albeit against weaker competition. Still, the fact that the Terps are gaining confidence with a full roster can only mean good things going forward, because conference play is finally about to arrive. Awaiting the Terrapins after finishing their pre-conference schedule is a trip to Raleigh to face North Carolina State’s Wolfpack. Recent ACC Player of the Week Lorenzo Brown, along with C.J. Leslie and three-point sharpshooter Scott Wood lead the Wolfpack under new head coach Mark Gottfried.

ACC teams will finish up with their up the first phase of the season by Thursday with some additional non-conference games. The most noteworthy of these games is Duke’s trip to Philadelphia to face the Temple Owls, whom they have beaten nine straight times. The Blue Devils have been something of an afterthought nationally, even as they won the Maui Classic, but were drubbed by Ohio State. The Blue Devils haven’t lost since, however, and head into this virtual home game with the Owls looking to get even better as they head into their first conference game on Saturday against Georgia Tech.

With North Carolina and Duke having been preordained the conference front-runners from the start of preseason, the remaining ten teams will have plenty of chances to make statements as to where they stand in the conference. The story of the early non-conference season has been Virginia, now ranked in the top 25 of the AP poll at 21. There weren’t many who figured Virginia to be the conference’s third best team; and if you go by won-loss records they currently sit atop the conference at 13-1.  The Cavaliers will face a Miami squad that has a four-game winning streak of its own, and has its own missing pieces returning in center Reggie Johnson and forward DaQuan Jones. The Tar Heels open conference play with a visit from a struggling Boston College team that lost earlier this week to Rhode Island in double overtime. Other conference openers on Saturday include Virginia Tech opening on the road at Wake Forest and Florida State taking on Clemson.