This will be Lefty's longest season. Out at Notre Dame, Digger Phelps talked of "stealing" 20 victories this year. If Lefty Driesell wins 20 at Maryland, it will be theft of the grandest degree. North Carolina's 66-50 conquest of Lefty's Terrapins last night was proof positive that Maryland is, let's be nice, some kind of mediocre.

Its big men are the littlest big men in town; the three front-liners had nine rebounds total last night. Its little men get nothing done from outside; the guards made only four shots from as far as 15 feet as Carolina built a 48-29 lead. Its defense couldn't stop Carolina inside in the second half; the winners shot 75 percent then.

What makes this worse for Maryland is that North Carolina wasn't really trying. It is the nation's No. 1-ranked team. It has a more important date Saturday afternoon. No. 2 Virginia comes to Chapel Hill. And how can you get excited about playing a team that lost to Georgia Terrible Tech when three days later you play the No. 2 team in the country?

Answer: You can't. It isn't that North Carolina came into Cole Field House strutting and preening. The Tar Heels didn't play badly out of any lack of desire. The coach, Dean Smith, is a master of motivation who preaches that true happiness is achieved only by relentless pursuit of excellence. No, the Tar Heels got off the bus last night with all the best intentions of leaving Maryland in tatters.

James Worthy noticed something, though. He's Carolina's all-America forward. Right away he noticed this would not be your normal Maryland-Carolina basketball war. How can the Maryland fans get excited about a team that can't beat Terrible Tech?

Answer: They can't. Early this week, Lefty Driesell told the press that Cole Field House would be filled with customers for the Carolina game. "If the place isn't sold out, my name isn't Lefty Driesell," he said.

Maybe we should call him Adolph Rupp now.

Although the game technically was a sellout, at tipoff there were at least 1,000 empty seats.

And those warm bodies in the other seats did little more than breathe in and out.

James Worthy noticed. "The crowd was a little bit at ease," he said. "Usually when we get off the bus, they're hollering at us then. They didn't do that tonight."

Carolina, in response, was innocently arrogant. It believed it had the superior talent. It knew the crowd agreed. So instead of the precise passing and textbook defensive play that characterized its complete domination of powerful Kentucky two weeks ago, North Carolina did a lazy man's work the first half. It gambled defensively, it waited for something to happen offensively. It did it the easy way, which is always the wrong way.

For a moment, it seemed that Carolina's insouciance might be the window of vulnerability though which Maryland could climb for an upset. After 12 minutes of play, the game was tied at 13-all. But Carolina then outscored Maryland, 13-2, over the next eight minutes for a 26-15 lead.

Even then, Carolina went about its work in the strangest way. Only Worthy and Sam Perkins, its 6-foot-11 center, had taken shots the first 11 minutes. Only with 45 seconds left in the half did any other Tar Heel score a basket. At times it seemed that no one except the two big men even wanted to shoot, and against a very good team, against a Virginia, this reliance on two giants could be defeating.

The surest signs of Carolina's malaise last night came early in the second half. As Maryland mounted a slight rally to move within seven points at 32-25, Carolina did two very unusual things: (1) Jimmy Black, running with the ball on a fast break, tried a 360-degree spin-and-pass showboat play; the blind pass was intercepted, and (2) Worthy drew a technical foul when, angry at a referee's call, he threw the basketball to the official very crisply.

The official wasn't looking. The ball bounced off his hip. Another official called the technical. This was with 17 minutes to play. Smith did what he always does in such cases; he ordered Worthy out of the game, not to return for nearly 10 minutes.

"They said he threw the ball to the referee too hard," Smith said later. "I said to the official, 'Was it a good pass?' "

"It was my fault," Worthy said. "I was trying to show him it wasn't a foul."

What he showed was that Carolina's mind was on something other than this date with Lefty. Smith, per custom, praised Lefty's game plan--slow down play when possible--as well conceived and well executed. "We just had too much experienced talent for them," Smith said. He called Maryland "fired up" and said Lefty's guys would be a good team this season. "They're not done by any means," Smith said.

No, not done. Maryland has at least 16 games to go. And you think you have problems.