After a 92-66 win over Maryland-Baltimore County, what does Maryland have to look forward to tonight in its return to ACC play? Merely a trip to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina, the nation's fifth-ranked team, a squad playing its conference opener, and anxious not only to bring Coach Dean Smith his 700th career victory but also avenge a pair of upset losses to the Terrapins last season.
"We don't seem to have a lot going for us, do we?" asked Maryland assistant coach Art Perry.
One might include Monday night's win over the Retrievers in that category. You could look at that nonconference game as an extended scrimmage, although a scrimmage less than 48 hours before a big game normally wouldn't be scheduled. And if one was scheduled, you would certainly try to make sure your starters didn't have to labor too long.
Unfortunately for Maryland that wasn't the case. Although they went ahead by 33 points less than five minutes into the second half, the Terrapins stumbled, allowing UMBC to close within 17 and ultimately forcing Coach Gary Williams to leave his front-line players on the floor into the final three minutes of the game.
"We had a problem in that when we went up 30 we took off our pressure defense and the players read a message into that," said Coach Gary Williams. "They begin to think that they don't have to play aggressively anymore so we had to get them hustling again."
If Maryland (8-4, 1-1) doesn't sustain that hustle tonight, it may find itself down by as many points as UMBC did. The Tar Heels (11-1) enter every game fully expecting to wear down their opposition. Smith has routinely used as many as 14 players in the opening 15 minutes of each of North Carolina's games.
The extraordinary depth is made possible because of a freshman class that many consider the finest in college basketball history. Eric Montross, a seven-foot center, has gotten the most playing time but 6-11 power forward Clifford Rozier has perhaps been the most impressive. Along with Pat Sullivan, Derrick Phelps and Brian Reese, each has started at least one game.
The freshmen have been the focus of much of the attention given to North Carolina but the team's heart lies in its upperclassmen. Senior forward Rick Fox is averaging 17.3 points a game with sophomore George Lynch adding 14.5. Another senior, guard King Rice, is averaging almost six assists per game.
"Lynch and Fox really worry me; Fox has a good outside shot but can run the floor too and he's playing with confidence right now," Williams said. "Man-to-man has been our basic defense even though you never get all of the matchups you want. But we can't change the makeup of our team just because they have a lot of depth. If we stay out of foul trouble I think our team is in good enough shape to stay with them."
If Maryland does have one thing going for it, it's the fact that North Carolina has lost a game this season. Not only that, but the winner was South Carolina, which has in turn lost to the Terrapins. Of course, both games, the Tar Heels' loss to South Carolina and Maryland's win over the Gamecocks, were in tournaments played on neutral courts.
There's nothing neutral about the Dean E. Smith Center, also known as, the Dean Dome. North Carolina has won 54 of 61 games played there, a cool 88 percent.
"We have to play the game anyway," said Williams. "A league game on the road is always tough. Dean going for his 700th may give it a little added attention but I don't think they're thinking about last year. Every year, every team is different."