In another year, the erratic Maryland basketball team would be a longshot in the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament starting here Thursday. But this season rookies, injuries and balance throughout the league make the Terps one of five teams with reasonable chances of thwarting favored North Carolina.
1:30 p.m. Wake Forest (8-4 ACC, 20-6 overall) vs. Virginia (2-10, 10-16).
3:30 p.m. - Clemson (8-4, 21-5) vs. Duke (2-10, 14-12).
8 p.m. - Maryland (7-5, 19-7) vs. North Carolina State (6-6, 16-10).
The Tar Heels, the regular-season champion, came back to the field when Tommy LaGarde, their 6-foot-10 starting center, suffered a knee injury Feb. 11 and missed the final six games.Carolina (9-3, 22-4) has a bye Thursday and plays the winner of the Maryland-North Carolina State game in Friday's semifinals.
Injuries and illness continued to mount for State today. Starting guard Brian Walker, a strong defensive player, already is out with a knee injury and 7-2 Glenn Sudhop, the sophomore who until recently was the Wolfpack's starting center, has a bad case of the flu and is doubtful.
Until Saturday, N.C. State had avoided the rash of injuries that struck key players from Maryland, North Carolina, Duke and Virginia this season. Then Walker suffered torn knee cartilage in the regular-season finale against Wake Saturday and Sudhop became ill Sunday.
"Walker is a key player for them because he's so good defensively," offered Clemson coach Bill Foster.
Sudhop has not played well recently and his playing time has diminished to the point where 6-8 Kenny Carr spends most of his playing time out of position at center. But, without Sudhop, the Wolfpack does not have any backup center and no one on the bench taller than 6-4.
"Maryland's injured players are coming back," moaned N.C. State coach Norm Sloan. "It's the opposite stretch for us."
Maryland, has regained the services of 6-5 forward Steve Sheppard, who missed the final eight regular-season games resting an ailing left achilles tendon. Billy Bryant is rounding back into form following a broken left hand.
The injuries and their effect on the eventual outcome of this 24th annual ACC tourney, was the chief topic of conversation as the teams went through brief final workouts today at Greensboro Coliseum.
"Gee," said the other Bill Foster, Duke's coach. "Those injured guys would make a pretty good team. Wlaker and our guy, Tate Armstrong, at guard; Sudhop at center, LaGarde and Sheppard at forward. That's not a bad team, huh? It's sort of scary, huh?"
Duke's Foster, whose team is the only squad not given any shot at winning the tournament and the reward of an automatic berth in the NCAA Easter Regionals, likes North Carolina because of the Tan Heel's effective defense.
"If anybody can get around missing one player, it's Carolina," he said. "Against their defense you sometimes forget about trying to get the ball inside."
Even Duke's injuries increased this week. Starting forward Harold Morrison collided with a teammate in practice and suffered a slightly sprained right wrist. It was bandaged in practice today.
With LaGarde, Carolina would be a contender for the national championship. Without him, the Tar Heels are vulnerable to defeat here. In league as balanced - not necessarily strong - as is the ACC this season, the psychological and mental edge is all important.
Maryland's Lefty Driesell tried to freshen point guard Brad Davis by withholding him from practice Tuesday. A pattern has developed in ACC tourney play the last three years in which an excellent player was bypassed for first-team all-ACC (Davis was second-team) and then led his team to the championship.
In 1974, it was N.C. State center Tommy Burleson, who won MVP honors for his role in that memorable 103-100 overtime win over Maryland on the way to the NCAA championship, then it was North Carolina and guard Phil Ford in 1975, and Virginia and Wally Walker last year.
"That's interesting," said Duke's Foster. "I hate to ask who you're thinking of."
The obvious answer was Clemson's 7-foot-2 Wayne (Tree) Rollins with whom the Blue Devils and their 6-11 freshman Mike Gminski, ACC co-rookie of the year with State's Hawkeye Whitney must contend Thursday night.
"That kind of crossed my mind," said Clemson's Foster. "I've had an opportunity to reflect no it. I was surprised he didn't make the first team. I tried to draw something positive to say to the team and drew that analogy and told them, 'Maybe that was a good ome.'"
"There's more to it than one player," said Armstrong, who will be writing stories for the Durham Herald instead of playing, as his broken wrist finishes healing. "It's the team more than the individual player. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's probably the prime example of that. He can't do it alone and there's no one in the tournament of his caliber."
Terry Holland, whose Virginia club lost continuity because of early injruies and thus set back defense of their title, takes a subtle approach.
"You put the article on the bulletin board and hope the message gets across," said Holland. "I like to think our kids were ticked off about Wally not making it.But we didn't dwell on it. If they think of it, it's a hell of a thing. If I put it up and push it, I may turn off as many as I get to respond."
Clemson's Foster has another psychological block to overcome. With LaGarde out for Carolina, Clemson is the best team on paper. But the Tigers, who are on probation and therefore ineligible for NCAA play, have the worst tournament record of any ACC team: 5-23 in 23 years.
"You have to learn how to win, don't you?" said Clemson's Foster. "It sounds crazy, doesn't it? Fans don't understand. But it doesn't come easy when you haven't done it in the past, particularly in a tournament."
Clemson has been in the final only once, in 1962 and has survived the first round only four times.
And Driesell, too, was playing the psychological game with his players after their final major practice on Tuesday at College Park. The Terps have beaten State twice this season and Driesell spent the final five minutes or so of practice reminding them of other teams in the same situation who lost.