Whenever Dean Smith and Lefty Driesell get together for a basketball game, they insist that it is just a contest between North Carolina and Maryland and not the coaches, that there is nothing special about their personal rivalry.
Don't believe it.
They have met 36 times over the years, Smith winning 28. Wednesday night, they will meet in Carmichael Auditorium, North Carolina's home for the last 20 years. It will be their last meeting in this building, which will be closed at the end of this season because the school is opening a 22,000-seat coliseum next season.
Driesell's record in Carmichael is 2-13. That is not so bad considering some of the other ACC teams' records during that period: N.C. State and Wake Forest are 3-12, Virginia 2-13, Duke and Clemson 0-15.
"It doesn't matter to me where we're playing," Driesell said. "I don't have any memories of Carmichael. I couldn't care less about Carmichael. Carmichael is the least of my worries. We've played some great games down there. We beat them worse than anybody ever did there (in 1975, 96-74).
"What worries me is their personnel. They've won down there all these years because they always have the best personnel in the league. This year is no different. No matter what anybody says, they still have the best personnel in the league."
In fact, preseason rumors of the Tar Heels' death have proven to be greatly exaggerated. They come into Wednesday's game ranked fifth in the country with a 10-1 record. Maryland is 11-3 and fell out of the top 20 today after losing at Dayton Saturday. Each team is 1-0 in ACC play.
North Carolina's junior center, Brad Daugherty, is averaging 18.7 points and 9.5 rebounds a game. In Kenny Smith and Steve Hale, the Tar Heels have a solid back court that makes very few mistakes.
"Before the season started, I think we had doubts about how good we could be," Hale said today. "In the back of our minds, we thought we could be good but we really weren't sure. Now we know we're a good team, we know we're a top 20 team. The question now is, can we be a top five team? We will find that out starting Wednesday, because when you play two ACC games a week you find out about yourselves in a hurry."
Hale said the biggest surprise for Carolina has been its defense. "We didn't even put in our traps until the fifth week of practice," he said. "I didn't think they could be as effective as they have been."
With the loss of Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins, both No. 1 picks in the NBA draft, some people picked Carolina as low as fifth in the league. Now, with their only loss being to Missouri in Hawaii, some, including Driesell, think there is no reason why the Tar Heels can't finish at the top of the league. After all, they have been first or second for 18 straight years.
"Daugherty and Smith are the best players at their positions in the league, no doubt about it," Driesell said. "They have all that size inside. That will be the toughest thing for us to deal with. But there's never anything easy for us about dealing with them. Especially down there."