The Maryland and George Washington baseketball teams are at the crossroads of their seasons tonight, for different reasons.
Maryland has played erratically all season, as one might expect of a young, injury-plagued team. The Terps have two straight ACC wins over mediocre teams, so a victory at North Carolina tonight (WMAL-TV7 at 9 p.m.) would serve as notice the Terps might just have enough consistency to play well three straight days and win the ACC tournament.
After GW upset the Terps 11 days ago, little did the Colonials dream that tonight's 8 o'clock home game against Navy would have so much importance as a harbinger of the season and their chances in the Eastern Eight tournament. But the Maryland upset inexplicably served as the impetus for a three-game losing streak.
The Colonials are 11-8 and coach Bob Tallent complains, "We've got to play every night. You can see it. You can tell when we're intense and really alert. You can see spots where it looks like we're just going through the motions."
Meanwhile Georgetown, trying to build momentum for a third straight trip to the NCAA playoffs, faces a 5-15 Fordham team that should give the 14-5 Hoyas little trouble in an 8 p.m. game at McDonoguh Gym.
At Maryland, coach Lefty Driesell is contemplating a new development in the James (Turk) Tillman saga. Driesell said yesterday that he might start Tillman at small forward, the spot most affected by injuries to Steve Sheppard and Billy Bryant.
In two games since Driesell lifted Tillman's suspension for insubordination, the 6-foot-4 sophomore has played well against Virginia and won Saturday's Duke game almost single-handedly.
Driesell has been starting three big men since Sheppard injured an achilles tendon. But Driesell said yesterday he was worried about a possible mismatch against North Carolina's 6-5 forward Walter Davis, and that he might start Bryant or Tillman instead.
Reminded that he has never changed his starting five after a win. Driesell replied that he still was considering the possiblity. Bryant's game against Duke was his first since breaking his left hand against Clemson on Jan. 19. Bryant, however, showed rust in the Duke game and the brace on his hand prevents him from bending his wrist.
"We have been written off by some people," Driesell said. "But I don't think the season has been a disaster. I don't apologize for a 15-5 record. We could just as easily have won three of the five we lost."
The Terps lost by a point in overtime to Wake Forest and Notre Dame and fell by three points to North Carolina.
Even North Carolina coach Dean Smith was throwing kudos at the Terps yesterday, insisting that his team's 15-4 overall, 4-3 ACC record was not result of its bad play but of the strength of the conference.
"I'd rather be playing San Francisco or Nevada-Las Vegas Wednesday night than Maryland," Smith said, with a provinicial touch.
The key for tonight's game, Smith said, is rebounding, a weak point with the Tar Hells this season. "We can't let Maryland play volleyball around the basket, as they did against Duke," he said. "You get two shots and we get one, you'll win on percentage alone."
Meanwhile Dr. Stanford Lavine, the Maryland team physician, examine Sheppard's leg and put it back in a cast for another seven days. Lavine said it will be 10 days before Bryant will be allowed to bend his left wrist.
At George Washington, Tallent and assistant coach Tom Schneider cant't believe the fetdown following the Colonials' first win over Maryland in 16 years.
"Some teams go into a game like Maryland and get beat, and go straight downhill," said Schneider, "but not go into it and win, and go, pffft, right down the tubes."
GW's defense has been virtually nonexistent, yielding an average almost 81 points a game to William and Mary, Virginia Tech and Richmond.
"We haven't been playing good defense, that's for sure," said Tallent. "And tat is intensity, being mentally prepared and ready to play. The guys think they are, but they're really not."
Navy is just the team to exploit a dropped defense.
The Mids are 11-7 and need only two more wins to equal the most victories (accomplished in 1972-73 and 1961-62) since the 1959-60 team finished 16-6 and went to the NIT.
Navy, however, is a different team away from home. At Halsey Field House, the Mids are 9-0 with wins over such Eastern Powers as Penn and Geogetown. They are 2-2 on neutral courts and 0-5 on the opposition's floors.
Forward Kevin Sinnett, a St. John's High graduate like GW star guard John Holloran, brings a 15-point, nine rebound average in to lead to the Mids. The key to this game, too, is rebounding and the short Mids have held their own or outrebounded such big teams as Penn, Georgetown and Maryland.