Maryland will be delivered from ranked opponents and Virginia may need some basketball deliverance from Maryland this afternoon when the two meet at 3:30 at University Hall in Charlottesville.
The Terrapins (10-5, 0-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) have expended hard efforts against three high-rank teams in the last couple of weeks and would like to think they are not only better for it, but due to win. Coach Charles G. Driesell has told them this is the biggest game of the season, and that could bode ill for a Virginia team (11-4, 1-2) in a remarkably similar situation.
"We've both got our backs to the wall," Virginia Coach Terry Holland said. "It's a must-win game for both teams if we are going to be a factor in the league."
Maryland has just come through a crucial stretch of conference games, and Virginia is about to embark on one. The Terrapins have lost to No. 3 Duke, No. 5 Georgia Tech and No. 1 North Carolina by a total of just 11 points. But that they were all good games that could well have gone Maryland's way is small consolation. Two of the losses came at Cole Field House.
"I actually don't think we're playing that bad when you look at the schedule," Driesell said. "I can't think of anyone who has played as many ranked teams as we have."
Maryland marks the beginning of a five-game conference stretch for the Cavaliers, who then will face Wake Forest, North Carolina State, North Carolina and Duke. They are just slightly better off than Maryland at this point, with a close loss at home to Georgia Tech and one on the road to Duke early in December, along with a two-point win at Clemson last weekend.
The Cavaliers are going with their fifth lineup in the last 11 games, but one thing that hasn't changed is their front court.
Olden Polynice, the 6-foot-11 junior, leads the Cavaliers with averages of 15.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. Behind him, the Cavaliers spread the scoring around, the 6-9 Tom Sheehey averaging 11.1. Andrew Kennedy perhaps has been the team's biggest development, the 6-9 forward averaging nine points and five rebounds.
The back court was Virginia's most obvious weakness last season, when the Cavaliers lost nine straight ACC road games. But workmanlike Tom Calloway is averaging 7.5 points and Mel Kennedy has developed into a scoring threat, averaging 11.7 points and capable of streak shooting.
Maryland has reverted to its original starting five of upperclassmen in the last two games after going with freshmen center Tony Massenburg and guard John Johnson for six games each. Terry Long has returned to center, and put together two good games. Jeff Baxter is back at guard, where his experience is helping even if his statistics aren't always spectacular.
Holland already has decided that the Cavaliers don't have much hope of stopping 22.5-point scorer Len Bias. The all-America forward, despite the various combination defenses of Duke, Georgia Tech and North Carolina, is scoring even higher in conference games, 24.6, and getting 6.7 rebounds.
"You don't stop him," Holland said. "You just say he's going to play well and get his points."