Strategy? Some reporters snickered to themselves. Guy Lewis' face tightened ever so slightly.

"Don't have a blackboard," he said.

Well, could you describe what you might do against Maryland?

"Can't without a blackboard," the Houston coach insisted. "We're an Xs and Os team."

The haughty horde in basketball is having a grand time over this one, Maryland versus Houston in round two of the NCAA playoffs here Saturday, the mental matchup between Charles Grice Driesell and Guy Vernon Lewis. When bench brains were being distributed, one of the lines goes, Guy and the Lefthander were out recruiting power forwards.

So it won't be MacArthur and Rommel in The Summit. The telling irony is that most coaches who laugh hardest at Lewis and Driesell also usually get no closer to the NCAAs than a television set. If you can't beat 'em, beat on 'em.

Combined, Lewis and Driesell have won 982 games in 50 years of coaching. With 526 victories, Lewis is fifth among active coaches, with 456, Driesell is ninth. Of all the coaches ever consumed by college basketball, the Rupps, Ibas and Woodens, Lewis is the 13th winningest.

But for the matchless Lew Alcindor UCLA teams of 1967 and '68, he might already have the NCAA championship that a guy needs to be a certified genius. With Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney, Houston lost to UCLA in the final four both years. It also lost to the eventual champion, North Carolina, in the national semifinals last season.

"Nobody's head and shoulders above the rest this year, like those Alcindor teams," Lewis said today. "There's 15 or 16 teams who can win it all. I think we're one of 'em."

He didn't say if Maryland was another.

Nobody had the nerve to ask.

What Lewis has assembled this year is a team possibly as good as the Hayes-Chaney one, or possibly not really terrific at all. The Cougars are No. 1 in the polls, a very neat trick for a team with a 6-2 record.

How's that?

Well, you could call Houston's league the Southworst Conference and not be too nasty. Like Maryland's gang, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the SWC was a two-team affair this year, Houston and Arkansas. The rest sort of run around the court like Longhorns and Frogs.

"Yeah," Larry Micheaux admitted today, "people runnin' down our league puts more pressure on us. No. 1 does, too."

Officially, Houston is 27-2, with a 22-game winning streak. In the eight games against teams also in the NCAA tournament, the Cougars have beaten Lamar, Utah, Southwestern Louisiana, Pepperdine and Arkansas twice. They have lost to the fifth-best team in the Big East, Syracuse, and to Virginia without Ralph Sampson.

Before getting too snooty, however, the four players who form the core of this year's team were on the one last season that beat Tulsa in Tulsa and Missouri in St. Louis during that run to the final four. The men of Phi Slama Jama were initiated to playoff pressure long ago.

They are mostly home grown. Michael Young and Clyde Drexler grew up here playing against one another. Drexler worked in the grocery store Young's family patronized. Micheaux also was reared a few miles from campus. The frightful force that has made the Cougars so fierce hails from the Houston suburb of Lagos, Nigeria.

Akeem Abdul Olajuwon is the shot blocker of a coach's dream, and the angel who delivered him to Lewis is a long-time friend and State Department official named Chris Ponds. All the star-crossed Driesell needs to know about him is that former Rocket Moses Malone thinks he's great.

"If Akeem makes the normal progress," Lewis has said of his sophomore center, "then, sure, we expect him to be the Ralph Sampson of the future."

The Cougars have glowing numbers: a 40-4 record since Feb. 1 of last year, when they were seventh in the conference; a 67-17 record in games juniors Young and Drexler have started; 220 blocked shots and 151 dunks. With 349 steals, they also play defense.

They also throw the ball away a lot and, with the exception of Drexler, are miserable foul shooters. As a team, they are 61.6 from the free-throw line, including eight for 22 during the victory over TCU in the SWC tournament final last week.

Also, they want others to consider them mean, quake in their sneakers at the idea of tipping off against creatures who also jam and slam bodies during workouts.

"I call the fouls in practice," Lewis says. "I try to call a couple every year."

The Cougars use some of the traps that have troubled the Terrapins this season and have held teams to 65 or fewer points 16 times this season. Their best players have fouled out much less often than Maryland's. But Olajuwon has played much less than Maryland center Ben Coleman.

As Lewis suggested, Houston is one of the few teams in the tournament with the potential for excellence. In all, 19 of the 52 NCAA teams lost at least as many games as the Philadelphia 76ers, nine. But many of them also could have beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cougars very likely are the best team in Houston.

His mouth on a fast break again, Driesell said after Maryland's first-round victory that he'd be "worried" if he were a Cougar. That's not quite how the Cougars see it.

"Cautious would be a better way to put it," said Reid Gettys.

Worry implies fear, Micheaux said. Houston beats the fear out of itself in practice.