The question today is what tall tale Lefty Driesell will come up with to get Maryland motivated for its regular season finale at Virginia (WJLA-TV-7, 1:30 p.m.).
Wednesday, Driesell told his team it needed to beat N.C. State in order to ensure itself of an NCAA bid. That, of course, wasn't true; Maryland almost certainly has been assured a spot in the tournament since it won its 20th game. But, true or not, the strategy worked as the Terrapins upset the Wolfpack, 71-70.
What about today? "Maybe I'll just tell 'em if we win, we'll win the ACC championship," Driesell said. "They'd probably believe me."
Maryland will neither lose nor gain anything this afternoon. The Terrapins are locked into Friday's No. 4 seed-vs.-No. 5 game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament against Duke, regardless of today's outcome. They are 22-10 overall and 7-6 in conference play. A victory would tie them for fourth place with Duke, and the two teams would flip a coin to determine the fourth seed. But the coin flip is meaningless; they'll play each other regardless.
Virginia (15-13, 3-10 in the league), as the No. 8 seed, will play the No. 1 seed Friday. Who that will be won't be determined until today when State, North Carolina and Georgia Tech (all 9-5) draw to break their tie.
This game, then, is for those two old coaching favorites: pride and momentum. "This is the time of year you want to play well every time out," Driesell said. "You see your team letting down now, you get worried about it."
The Terrapins seem to have overcome their mid-February letdown when they dropped four straight in quest of Driesell's 500th victory. They have won three in a row, the most recent -- over the Wolfpack -- being by far the most impressive.
Virginia suffered through a horrid January before putting together consecutive victories over Louisville, Georgia Tech and Clemson. But after blowing a 14-point lead at home against N.C. State a week ago, the Cavaliers lost at Wake Forest to clinch last place in the league. Maryland easily won the earlier meeting between the two teams in Cole Field House.
"You can't take anything for granted now," senior guard/forward Adrian Branch said. "This is payoff time. Every game moves you closer to the big payoffs that you play all season for."
Branch's nine-of-12 shooting Wednesday, breaking a slump, certainly is encouraging for Maryland as March begins. "I told him to take the ball to the hole more and he did it," Driesell said. "When he does that, he creates a lot of good things and it helps his game. If he keeps playing like that, we'll be pretty tough."
The toughest Terrapin all season has been Len Bias, a leading candidate for ACC player of the year. But lately, facing double and triple teaming, Bias has struggled a little. He was five for 16 against State and took a number of bad shots. Driesell doesn't expect that to be a problem.
"He just got a little frustrated with the double teaming," he said. "I think once he realizes that Adrian and Keith (Gatlin) can help him out, he'll relax and take better shots."
If Virginia is to have a chance for the upset, it must keep the game at a walk. That means, as has been the case with Maryland all season, rebounding will be crucial. If Maryland rebounds, it can run. If it runs, it usually wins.
Either way, this one is just for practice. Or maybe its for the national championship. Maryland's players will find out what it's for shortly before tipoff when their coach lets them in on the secret.