Maryland faces 16th-ranked North Carolina State tonight at Raleigh with its worst Atlantic Coast Conference basketball start (0-2) in eight years.
The main problem, said coach Lefty Driesell, is that no one can pinpoint the problem.
The Terrapins, 9-3 overall, have enough talent to stock two teams but lack that intangible something that wins close games under pressure.
"It's a mental thing," said Driesell. "Once we put it all together, we can beat anybody."
The Terrapins came apart in league games against Duke and Wake Forest. The Terps led both contests in the first half, then went into identical trances of little defense, lazy rebounding, turnovers and what Driesell says is "horrendous" free-throw shooting.
The Terps appear to lack leadership, a clutch player who can restore order, run a pattern offense and play his best game when the rafters are vibrating with enemy chants.
However, Driesell seemed to disfavor that theory.
"I don't want any one guy to feel he has to take over," said Driesell. "I want it to be a team thing. That's just the problem. Albert (King), (Lawrence) Boston and JoJo (Hunter) all feel they have to take over. We get behind and they get the idea, 'I'll do it myself.'
"We get a little behind, we take bad shots and everyone's going one on one. Against Duke, we lost our composure on offense and defense, and just sort of fell apart.
"We just have to play together, move the ball more on offense, be patient, take better shots and help each other on defense.
"I've pointed out these things during time-outs. But they didn't react to it.
"I don't think there's anything drastically wrong. I don't think it's good, but I'm going to commit suicide or give up on the team. I don't know if they're trying too hard or not trying hard enough."
As he often does after a loss, Driesell will change the starting lineup for tonight's game against the 10-1 Wolfpack. Driesell will bench point guard Greg Manning (who was 0 for 3 against Wake Forest) and start Billy Bryant.Bryant lost his starting position at the other guard to Jo Jo hunter after the loss to Duke.
That earlier move was a surprise, because Bryant, along with King, is considered the core of the team.
"I was just trying to get him (Bryant) to play a little better defense," said Driesell. "He reacted the other way."
That is, instead of playing better defense, Bryant played worse offense, hitting one of seven shots from the floor.
Hunter stays in the lineup at the other guard, with Larry Gibson at center, Lawrence Boston at big forward and King, the only 12-game starter, at small forward.
Of the all the Terps, King appears to be the most logical candidate for team leader. He has court savvy beyond his years -- maybe beyond anyone's years -- and is well-liked. But he is a freshman, is overly conscious of stealing the limelight from his teammates and may not be ready yet.
Against Wake Forest, King hit six of nine shots in the first half, then took just three shots in the second and missed them all.
"I asked him what was wrong," said Driesell. "He said he thought he was trying to hard.
"I think Albert should score 20 points a game (he averages 13.8), but he's just a freshman. He has to be relaxed. He has to play in a way that makes him comfortable and allows him not to worry."
Driesell said he doubted he would pick five players and stick with them almost exclusively, something he had contemplated briefly after the Wake Forest loss.
"Not unless a certain five happen to click good," said Driesell. "We have some players of equal ability, and I'd like to get as many players as possible ready by ACC tournament time.'
Maryland, which, had been ranked 13th in the United Press International poll and 15th in the Associated Press poll, dropped from both. N.C. State, meanwhile, made an entrance this week at 16th in AP and 18th in UPI. North Carolina remains second-ranked in both polls, and Virginia is 15th in AP.
"I always want to be ranked," said Driesell. "But we've had a bad week, and we have to get over it. You can have a bad week. You just don't want to have a bad month or a bad year.
"What we need is a win."
The Terps are an underdog tonight especially if comparative scores and home-court advantages are considered worthy indicators. Maryland lost to Duke at home by 10 points, and Duke then went to N.C. State and lost, 74-50.
Boston will draw the assignment of guarding leading scorer Haweye Whitney, who averages 18.2 points a game. Dresell has described the Terps recent defensive efforts as "lousy."
On statistic that accentuates Driesell's assessment is the "steals" colulmn. The Terps have stolen the ball 68 times while having it taken from them 97 times. Turnovers have occurred in every fashion: bringing the ball upcourt, careless passes, or simple lapese in concentration.