Maryland, with 10 straight victories over teams inferior opposition to most of those in the Atlantic Coast conference, gets a good inkling this weekend whether is has legitimate aspirations as a national championship contender this season.
In their Conference opener; the Terrapins play Wake Forest at 2 o'clock today (WMAL-TV-7). North Carolina State is next at 12:30 p.m. Sunday (WRC-TV-4). Both games are at Cole Field House.
Elsewhere today in area college basketball, George Washington hosts Pittsburgh in an opener of the new Eastern Eight League, 8 p.m.; Stonehill visits Georgetown at 8; American is at Syracuse at 8; Catholic U. hosts Boston U. at 8; Shaw visits Howard at 8; Navy continues its interservice rivalry at Air Force, 9:30, and Virginia plays at North Carolina in another regionally televised ACC game (WMAL-TV-7), 4 p.m.
A year ago this time, Maryland was undefeated, rolling up big margins over outmanned competition and living off the reputation with a No. 2 national ranking. The first four ACC games, starting with a 96-83 loss to Wake, exposed the Terps for what they were: a[WORD ILLEGIBLE] ACC team with inexperience and no depth at the inside positions where ACC basketball is won and lost. The Terps opened conference play with one win in four games.
This season, with all victories after a one-point overtime loss to Notre Dame, the Terps are ranked 15th in one wire service poll, 18th in the other and are written off in some corners. Again today, the test for Maryland will be its inside game, now vastly stronger and deeper than a year ago.
For Wake Forest, also 10-1, this game starts a three-game stretch that should prove whether this is the same old Deacon team that peaks in December when the stronger ACC clubs are still experimenting. Following the Terps, Wake has a home game against North Carolina Thursday and a Saturday road game at Clemson.
The top ACC teams have been able to win on the road. Wake has lost 22 of 24 conference road games in coach Carl Tracy's four seasons. Wake too, shows more inside experience this season. Good big men inside are the foundation of the fast-break basketball preferred by both Maryland and Wake Forest.
Maryland again will open with 6-foot-10 junior-college transfer Mike Davis at center and 6-9 sophomore Larry Gibson, the Terps' most consistent player this season, at the inside forward. Lawrence Boston, a 6-8 junior who suffered through the same adjustment pains, as Davis a year ago, averages 12 points and seven rebounds as the top reserve.
The match-ups find Davis playing against 6-11, 222-pound Larry Harrison, a sophomore from Baltimore, and 6-8 Rod Griffin, one of the ACC's best big forwards, paired with Gibson. Griffin missed four games with a knee injury and just returned to action in the Deacs' 67-63 ACC opening win over Virginia.
"For us to win," said Harrison, "I've got to play good defense and rebound.We've got guys who can score at every position. I intend to get my rebounds and play defense."
Ironically, Harrison wanted to attend Maryland. Coach Lefty Driesell offered him a scholarship, but Harrison's mother convinced her son that a smaller school was best for him.
Harrison, averaging nine points and 8.5 rebounds despite suffering a broken nose in Wake's loss to Mississippi State, used to drive down I-95 from Towson frequently as a high-school senior and watch the Terps practice.
"I'd say I drove down about 20 times," he said. "I liked watching John Lucas and Mo Howard run. I wanted to go to Maryland, but my mother didn't want me to go."
Depth, which may be Maryland's best strength this season, is Wake's weakness. The Deacons rely on six players. "They the Terrapins have people coming off the bench, and there seems to be no end to them," said Tacy yesterday.
Two of the other three Wake Forest starters are familiar faces: point guard Skip Brown and small forward Jerry Schellenberg, the No. 2 guard a year ago. The other starter is 6-2 freshman Frank Johnson.
Maryland's current starting alignment may give Wake a match-up problem since Driesell has gone to 6-6 freshman Billy Bryant at the No. 2 guard. Bryant is playing well, giving the Terps a new dimension in a wing guard. The other starters are forward Steve Sheppard, who is now playing super after a shaky start, and point guard Brad Davis.
George Washington, 4-4, is improving after an early road schedule which also saw coach Bob Tallent experimenting. He has finally promoted two freshmen, Bucky Roman and Tom Glenn, to the first unit to provide better outside shooting. The GW schedule this month is nearly brutal -- Pitt, Duquesne, Rutgers, West Virginia and Maryland.
Georgetown coach John Thompson said yesterday that it was unlikely either starting forward Larry Long (headaches) or third guard Mike Riley (bruised thigh) would play tonight against Stonehill, a 5-4 small-college outfit that beat Boston U. by 12 points. Georgetown recently beat the same team by four.