By now, even Lefty Driesell must be considering a notion others within college basketball had long ago -- for his team to win the national championship this year, he must stop thinking so much during games. Let 'em play, Lefthander. Relax. Stop coaching scared.
Because they played so well last season, surprised so many of us, the Terrapins set extremely high standards for themselves this year. Nearly everyone with an opinion had them among the five best teams in the land. With the schedule more than half complete, their surface record is 11-3; their realistic record is 0-3.
Maryland has lost to the only three teams with talent even approaching its own -- Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia -- and Driesell has given everyone proper credit. Except himself. He has sassed the officials and his players, sometimes with good cause.
Some time Driesell must come to terms with his own mistakes. Nobody expects anything tactically exceptional from him in the bet of times. A pick every now and then for Greg Manning would be considered inspirational. Still, some of his moves during the three losses seem to have earned him a new nickname:
What man in his right mind, some coaches wonder, would look at Louisville, one of the worst-shooting teams in the country, and not order a non-stop zone? Every other good team did. Every other good team made Louisville shoot 20-footers -- and won.The Terps let Louisville inside for layups -- and lost.
In his defense, Driesell opened with a zone and the game ended with Albert King and Manning shooting a combined nine for 35 from the field. King, in fact, has been dropping from his pinnacle of last season, to prince now and then and sometimes as low as the level of the common folk.
But how could Driesell analyze North Carolina and not sense that Jimmy Black might rip his pressing defense apart? Kansas pressed effectively against the Tar Heels, but Maryland does not have Kansas-type guards. And having Buck Williams check Al Wood a few times was an invitation to go in for layups to a man who had lost his outside touch and drives less than little old ladies from Pasadena.
Against Virginia Wednesday, Driesell seemed to show us he had no feel even for his own team, for what it does best and -- more significantly -- what it cannot do. Why else would he order players shooting 71 percent at the time to stop shooting, to stall?
King, Manning, Ernest Graham, Williams and Reggie Jackson were not put on earth to play stall-ball. Maryland's half-court offense is arguably the best in the country, a scoring machine at times. Against Virginia, it was producing seven baskets for every ten shots the second half.
Until Driesell began thinking. Until he reached for the coach's crutch -- the stall -- with about six minutes left and Maryland ahead by four points. Dean Smith wins with a stall, so by God, Driesell will use it, too.
"We'll win 99 percent of the games we use it," he said after Virginia, patient and clever, rallied to win. Possibly. But didn't Duke come from behind and win the ACC tournament championship last season while the Terrapins also were being slow turtles?
This is a team that must attack, or use a stall that does not have Jackson and Charles Pittman handling the ball regularly. Maryland is wonderful, in part, because it does not need much more direction than somebody pleading to play tough defense.
Driesell's doghouse must be among the largest in all of sport. Often players find themselves in it for the wrong reasons. The latest is Jackson, who is blamed for often being dreadful at point guard when he had never played the position before he got to Maryland.
One of Driesell's problems has been a lack of direction in recruiting. He has no Smith-like system, so he recruits everyone. With two moderately talented junior lead guards on hand this season, he brought in freshman Steve Rivers, who rarely plays.
If this seems overly harsh, keep in mind that Maryland is a veteran team that managed to catch Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia at vulnerable times -- the Cardinals when they could scarcely hit the backboard with a basketball, let alone put it through the hoop, the Tar Heels undermanned and the Cavaliers in Cole Field House.
Perhaps I'm also attacking Driesell for the wrong reasons. His genius, after all, has been in attracting the most gifted high school players to Maryland. With superior talent, Driesell often beats superior coaches. In the past, his best teams have been the ones he tinkered with least.
So maybe the criticism of Driesell should be not that he has lost games this season to Ralph Sampson and Sam Perkins. Maybe it should be that neither of these wonderful centers is a Terrapin. Think of it. America's greatest recruiter missed three of the best giants in the country -- Sampson, Sam Bowie and Perkins -- all within his natural recruiting turf.
Maryland was not even among the final choices for this season's high school highrise, Pat Ewing. Meanwhile, with Perkins and sophomore James Worthy, Smith has signed three splendid guards. And Sampson is said to be inclined toward staying at Virginia another year.
The Terrapins lose King, Manning and Graham, who are special in their own right and also make junior Williams extremely effective by demanding so much attention. The trio of seniors make most of Williams' limitations. Next year he will need help in the worst way.
This year there still is enough time for the Terrapins to right themselves and assume their proper place among the collegiate elite. Unless matters drift totally out of control, unless depression by Jackson and Graham begins to hamper the abandon of Williams, Maryland should make the 48-team NCAA tournament.
As Driesell knows so well, the difference between ecstacy and agitation in college basketball can be infinitesimal. A year ago at Virginia, Graham hit a last-second, game-winning jumper from almost the same spot on the court he missed Wednesday.
"One of my long bombs," Graham said in a whisperish voice. "All the people who think I throw it up can jump on me, 'cause it was long. But it was all I could get." That was the Maryland bomb that left an obvious impression, but it was hardly the largest.