Maryland basketball Coach Lefty Driesell came right to the point Thursday night when he was asked to assess his 9-1 team.
"I'll tell you right now, we've got a heckuva ball club." Driesell said, his voice loud, his tone strident. "We're playing excellent defense. Everyone knows their role and we're playing good ball.
The next six days should provide a good measure of how ready and how good this Maryland team is. The Terrapins have faced only two solid opponents this season, Georgetown and Temple. Playing without Buck Williams a month ago, they were beaten badlly by the Hoyas. With Williams last weekend, they routed Temple.
Saturday, the Terps will face their toughest test to date when they play here against Wake Forest (3 p.m., WDCA-TV-20).
The Deacons are not the best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference by any means, and with point guard Frank Johnson sitting out the season with a foot injury they are struggling in the back court.
But they have four very capable sophomores, all scoring in double figures. They also are well coached by Carl Tacy, and will be playing at home in the ancient Winston-Salem Memorial Coliseum where they always are tough.
After their encounter with the Deacons, the Terrapins will travel to Raleigh to play N.C. State Thursday. The Terps traditionally play well against State and have won four of the past five seasons in Raleigh.
Thus, the Terps could emerge from these two games with a 4-0 conference record. That definitely would open some eyes around the ACC.
"All I'm worried about right now is Wake Forest," Driesell said. "They've got a tough ball club."
So does Maryland. The Terps probably are playing better now than they have at any time since Albert King came to the university three seasons ago.
The main reason for that improvement is King.The 6-foot-5 junior has been superb all season, averaging 21.5 points, shooting 58 percent.
"I'm confident now," King said after the defeat of Georgia Tech Thursday. "I think this whole team is confident. We think a lot of people may have underestimated us. We think we're ready to go out and prove that."
To do that, Maryland must continue to get the consistent play it has received the last month from Ernest Graham (18.8 points), who has blossomed into a solid player at forward, and guards Greg Manning (14.5 points) and Dutch Morley (seven assists). The latter two have learned their roles well and Driesell even has stopped complaining about Morley's lack of scoring.
The other key man is Williams. The 6-foot-8 sophomore has played only three games at center since his broken finger healed and by his own admission is still learning the position. He was in foul trouble against Tech and finished with just three points and seven rebounds.
"Buck didn't have one of his better nights," Driesell said. "But that don't worry me. We know what he can do and we know what kind of player he is. Buck will be there when we need him."
Saturday, the Terps are going to need him. Jim Johnstone, although hobbled slightly by a twisted ankle, is a solid, improving player. The 6-11 center is averaging 12.6 points and 7.3 rebounds. And flanking him will be two excellent leaping forwards, Alvis Rogers and Guy Moran.
Wake's leading scorer is wing guard Mike Helms, averaging 14.2 points on 57 percent shooting. He is followed by Rogers at 13.1 and Morgan at 11.5 (plus 9.1 rebounds). Senior Benny McKaig, the only starter who is not a sophomore, is averaging 2.5 points while trying to replace Johnson, the team's leading scorer and assist man a year ago.
Wake is 0-1 in the ACC, having lost 64-59, at Virginia Wednesday. But at home the Deacons can beat anyone, as they proved two seasons ago when they went undefeated in the Coliseum.
Maryland, however, is right where it wants to be: healthy, confident and eager to start playing the tough teams.
"We know we can handle any pace," Manning said after the Tech game. "Against Temple we ran and did it well. Against these guys we played a slower game and did that pretty well. That's the mark of a good team."
Six days from now Manning and his teammates should have a good idea of just how good.
The Terps were two hours late arriving here today from Atlanta because of a backup in Atlanta and snow here. Driesell took the team to practice in Greensboro because the Coliseum was being used tonight for wrestling . . . . King is the ACC's second-leading scorer behind Duke's Mike Gminski. Graham is third in rebounds.