This should be fun.
It will be Maryland versus North Carolina State Thursday at 9 p.m. (WDCA-TV-20), and when these basketball teams get together, wild things always seem to happen. One team goes home disappointed, but the fans always go home satisfied.
This is a matchup of the Atlantic Coast Conference's run-and-gun specialists, of two coaches who would rather speed up the game than slow it down, and of two teams that always seem evenly matched no matter their personnel.
"I like playing them," Maryland's Albert King said. "They always have a good team and we always have good games with them."
More important, as far as the Terps are concerned, Maryland has won most of those games in recent years. Last year, the Terps swept the Wolfpack, winning, 124-110, in College Park the night Ernest Graham went wild with 44 points, then earning a tense 82-81 double-overtime victory in Raleigh.
What the matchups this season will produce is difficult to predict, largely because State is the one team in the ACC that plays an even weaker non-conference schedule than Maryland.
Since losing to North Carolina and beating Wake Forest in the Big Four tourney six weeks ago, the Wolfpack has played teams like St. Augustine's, Campbell, Towson State and East Carolina.
State comes into Thursday's encounter with a 9-1 record, its only regular-season ACC game ending in a 73-62 win over Georgia Tech. The Terps, riding an eight-game winning streak, are 10-1 for all games and 3-0 in conference play.
State's best player is senior Charles (Hawkeye) Whitney. The 6-foot-5 DeMatha graduate is averaging 18.7 points and 5.5 rebounds a game, both figures leading the team. He also is shooting 52 percent from the floor.
No other State player is averaging in double figures. More significantly, perhaps, the Wolfpack, despite its weak opposition, is shooting less than 50 percent (.488) as a team. That would indicate the problem it had in the Big Four -- playing one-on-one and taking the first shot available -- has not yet been solved.
"They're always tough, especially in their gym," Driesell insisted. "We've had some luck down there lately but if you look at the scores, we haven't exactly won easily."
Still, the very fact that the Terps have won four of the last five there (and eight of the last 13 overall), has to help them. Three years ago, they came back from an early 18-point deficit to win in Reynolds Coliseum.With State facing its first pressure game in six weeks, the Pack could either be sky high or rusty.
"I think we've been playing better basketball lately," State Coach Norm Sloan said after his team's 93-61 win over Towson State Saturday. "Our young players are starting to fit in a little better."
The three young players (all freshmen) who have seen action for Sloan are all from the Washington area. Guards Dereck Whittenburg and Sidney Lowe of De Matha have played frequently, averaging 8.3 points and 5.0 points, respectively. Lowe is second on the team in assists behind senior Clyde Austin, who is playing less than ever this season and averaging 8.5 points a game -- five below his career average.
The third freshman, Thurl Bailey, may be the key to how well the Wolfpack plays this season. The 6-foot-11 Bladensburg High graduate is gradually taking over the center spot from holdover junior Craig Watts. Bailey is averaging 7.8 points and 4.8 rebounds a game while splitting time with Watts (5.2 points, 3.8 rebounds).
The Wolfpack finished last season at 18-12, but was only 3-9 in the ACC.
Center was the problem position. How much State can improve on that record may depend on Bailey's progress.
Maryland has enjoyed a week of relaxation, not having to worry about classes (which start Monday), and should be ready to play. Albert King (21.4) and Ernest Grahm (19.6) continue to lead the team in scoring, both shooting better than 59 percent their last seven games. As a team, Maryland is shooting .545.
Historically, Driesell and Sloan have simply told their teams to go play when they face one another. Usually, the team that has the ball last wins. If King and Graham continue their accurate shooting, it may not be that close this time.
Either way, it should be fun.