It's that time again, when sportswriters and columnists north and south crank out comparisons between North Carolina Coach Dean Smith and Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell.

Driesell's 12-8 Terrapins will attempt to better their 1-6 Atlantic Coast Conference record tonight, hosting Smith's Tar Heels, who are 18-4 and 6-2.

The other set of numbers you'll hear is 5-14.

Driesell, who is baldness, country-boy energy and champion of the word "ain't," has won only five of 19 games against Smith, the man of straight ties, chosen words and elegance.

It is said that Driesell, whose 354-134 record compares well to Smith's 358-117, bristles at the homaage paid the North Carolina coach.

But if Driesell is tormented, he expresses it only in private.

"I don't know of any rivalry between us," Driesell said yesterday. "He's an excellent coach. And I feel like I'm an excellent coach."

Presumably, Driesell does not draw this conclusion from the newspaper clippings his secretary leaves daily on his desk. The word is that Driesell is the recruiter, Smith the master strategist.

Monday, a National Basketball Association scout commented, "Lefty better get himself an assistant coach to help him with the X sand Os. He has great talent. He's always been a good recruiter."

Smith, on the other hand, is said to squeeze Olympian efforts from scrap material, even though he has sent to the pros such players as Bob McAdoo, Walter Davis, Bobby Jones, Mitch Kupchak and Charlie Scott, and presently suits up two of the finest in the country in Phil Ford and Mike O'Koren.

"Any time two coaches have coached as long as we have, there are bound to be comparisons," said Driesell. "There's no particular spell North Carolina has over us. The last couple of years, they've been the best team in the conference.

"But a couple of years ago, they'd beat us and we'd beat them."

Maryland and UNC split their regular-season two-game series in the 1971-72, 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons.

Driesell's last win over UNC came in the 1974-75 season, at jinxed Carmichael Auditorium.

In their last meeting, the Terrapins were in a slump in which they would play well for a half, but the other period do everything wrong.

The Terps trailed by two at the half, then were run over by 22-5 blitz opening the second half. They never regained their composure.

Maryland lost the ball 22 times, fell asleep rebounding and couldn't defend against the hot shooting of Ford, who scored 23 points, 13 in the second half.

After the game. Driesell accused UNC of rubbing it in by going to the four corners with 8:25 left and a 72-57 lead. "My day will come," he said angrily.

If today is to be that day, the Terrapins will have to do everything better, Driesell said. He has no secret, elaborate plan of attack to undo the Tar Heel streak.

"We'll just play our game," said Driesell. "There's no particular strategy. We just have to do the things we do well and stop them from doing the things they do well.

"This game is not anything special. We'll play them like we played Las Vegas (the Terps beat Vegas, 81-68, snapping a four-game losing streak).

"I think we're beginning to get a little better. We're picking up confidence, our young players are catching on to our philosophy. We're playing more together.

"You've got to keep North Carolina off the boards. You've got to stop Ford and O'Koren, all of them, really. We have to outhustle them."

Asked how his team's talent compared to that of North Carolina, Driesell said, "I have no comment on that."

Ford, a text-book point guard, and O'Koren, a heady forward, have a combined average of 38 points a game. UNC also will have the full services of center Rich Yonakor, who was ill and played only briefly in the first meeting.

Four of Maryland's starters average between 10 and 14 points a game, with guard Billy Bryant on the bench with a 10.9 average and a confidence problem.

Bryant "is kinda stuck," Driesell said, "like a golfer who can't sink a putt." Guard Jo Jo Hunter and center Larry Gibson both are coming off their best efforts, and Al King has begun to show some much-needed emotion in the second half.

In another important ACC matchup tonight, Virginia plays at Duke. American U. is at LaSalle and George Mason plays at Roanoke among other games involving area teams.