The talk is over now. It is finally time for Maryland and Georgetown to decide who is king of college basketball in Washington.
The winner of Friday's game at the Spectrum will advance to Sunday's NCAA East Regional final against the victor in the earlier, 7:07 p.m. game between Iowa and Syracuse. Reaching that Sunday game -- not the Washington-area championship -- is all that really matters to both teams.
How will the Terrapin-Hoya game be decided? Probably by the unusual -- a play, a basket, a controversial call that will be debated for years to come. The teams are extremely evenly matched.
Ask Georgetown Coach John Thompson or Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell about the critical factors in this game and they will provide the usual cliches: rebounding and defense.
But the key may include a third area: transition. Both teams rebound and play defense well. It is unlikely that Georgetown will out-rebound Maryland, 36-198 at it did in its 83-71 victory in December. Each team likes to change defense, mixing man to man with different zones, although the Georgetown zones are far more active than Maryland's.
Thus, the team that can get off more good shots before the other has a chance to set up its defense may be the winner.
The Terps (24-6) are a superb transition team. All four of their scorers -- Albert King, Buck Williams, Ernest Graham and Greg Manning -- are excellent players on the break. The Hoya guards must be particualarly wary of Manning, who has an uncanny knack for getting open, especially on the left side. In addition, when Graham gets a rebound, he is as quick as anyone at moving the ball downcourt.
The Hoyas (25-5), with John Duren and Eric (Sleepy) Floyd both good rebounders, also can beat a defense downcourt. They are much better at pressure defense than the Terps and probably will press after every basket, foul shot or dead ball on the baseline. The Georgetown press made up an eight-point deficit against Iona in less than four minutes Sunday.
The matchups -- when the teams are playing man to man -- will be similar to the last matchup at forward, but significantly different in the middle and at the guards.
For the Terps, Graham will draw assignment of trying to stop Craig Shelton. Although both men are 6-foot-7, Shelton is much stronger. Maryland consistently has had trouble with genuine power forwards this season -- most notably Eugene Banks of Duke -- and Shelton's game is pure power. As Graham puts it, "If he gets the ball inside the key, he's impossible to stop."
To combat Shelton's strength, Graham would like to make him run on defense. He will try to beat him down court, wear him down and hope Shelton gets into foul trouble.
While Graham is working on Shelton, Georgetown's small forwards, Al Dutch and Eric Smith, will be trying to keep a handle on King.
The ACC player of the year and 28 points in the teams' first meeting and kept the Terps competitive for 30 minutes. Smith, 6-5 and quick, is an excellent defensive player; he handcuffed Syracuse's Louis Orr in the Big East championship game.
At center, Taylor Baldwin and David Henderson played 36 minutes for the Terps in the first meeting. That won't happen this time. But then Ed Spriggs probably won't play 34 minutes for the Hoyas at pivot, either. This time, Spriggs will share the time with 6-7 Mike Hancock and 7-foot Mike Frazier. Hancock starts because Thompson is superstitious -- Hancock has started every game during the Hoyas' current 14-game winning streak.
Frazier, who comes in for Hancock within three minutes, may be the most improved Hoya. Still Spriggs, the third center in the game, is the best of all three and should see the most minutes.
Those three will try to beat on and wear down Williams, Driesell's 6-8 "horse" who has outplayed every center he has faced this season. Williams is aching for this game since he had to sit out the first one with a broken finger.
Both teams will try to get the ball inside early. Maryland will look for Williams as a trigger man in breaking the press. He is quicker than any of the Georgetown centers. The Hoyas will try to make Williams work hard on defense early so that he might tire toward the end.
But the key matchups may be in the backcourt. Georgetown, in John Duren and Floyd, has two guards capable of scoring at lot of points. For Maryland, Manning can score but Reggie Jackson's outside shot is suspect, at best.
Although Floyd is expected to start on Manning, Duren probably will guard him most of the night, and Floyd will slough off Jackson frequently to help on King and Graham. Jackson may be forced to take a couple of shots to keep the defense honest.
At the other end, Jackson will guard Duren because he is much stronger than manning. Given the chance, Duren will post Manning down low all night. Manning must control the quick, poised Floyd.
"We want them shooting jump shots," Manning said. "If we let them penetrate or get the ball down low, they can hurt us, especially Duren because he's so strong."
The contributions of Manning and Floyd could be crucial. If Duren cannot stop Manning, or if Manning cannot stop Manning, or if Manning cannot stop Floyd, the defenser's team could be forced to go to zone early Both teams are excellent against zone defenses.
Finally there is the question of depth. Here, Georgetown clearly has the edge since Thompson uses 10 players and Driesell only seven, and the first five of those seven will play at least 35 minutes each, barring foul problems.
But Maryland has yet to lose a game this season because of fatigue and has avoided serious foul problems. One of the reasons of both is an effective delay offense, which shortens the game. If the tempo is fast -- which is likely -- look for Maryland to spread things out early if ahead, perhaps as early as seven or eight minutes from the end if the lead is at least two baskets.
This will be a physical game and how the officials decide to exert their authority also will be significant. While it would appear that loosely called game would benefit the bigger Hoyas, it also would help the less deep Terps avoid foul problems.
Both teams are excellent at movement away from the ball. They will take good shots and they probably will take them fairly quickly on each possession. Jackson for Maryland and Duren for Georgetown will set the offenses from their point-guard spots, then try to work the ball inside as often as possible.
The best players tend to play their best in big games. There are excellent players on both sides, but King and Shelton are the standouts. Both teams are well drilled and fundamentally sound.
In the end, the basics probably won't decide the matter because they should balance. If there is any justice, King or Shelton will decide the game with a big play at the finish.