SALT LAKE CITY -- A year ago, the Maryland Terrapins opened the NCAA tournament. Their first-round game against Saint Louis at the Kansas Coliseum in Wichita tipped off at 11:15 a.m. CST on the first Thursday.
Tonight, Maryland will close the first day of this year's NCAA tournament. The 10th-ranked Terps, seeded third in the West Regional, play Gonzaga at the Huntsman Center at approximately 10:30 p.m. EST.
Call it "Late Night With Joe Smith."
Neither Maryland coach Gary Williams nor his players seem to mind the late start. In fact, they're pretty much accustomed to it by now, having played three 9 p.m. Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season games and a 9:30 start last week in the opening round of the ACC tournament.
What's another hour or so at this stage of the season?
"I'd rather play at 8:30 [Mountain time] at night than 11:15 in the morning," said Williams, who'll make his return to the bench after missing four games with pneumonia.
Said junior point guard Duane Simpkins: "You're so excited about playing in the NCAA tournament, you don't care what time it is. Your body adjusts pretty quickly."
Jet lag for Maryland (24-7) might be the only way 14th seed Gonzaga (21-8) can win its first-ever NCAA tournament game and prevent the Terps from setting a tournament record with the school's 12th straight first-round victory without a defeat.
But Williams is cautious, knowing what his team, then seeded 11th, did last year in surprising Saint Louis and shocking Massachusetts before losing to Michigan in the Sweet 16 at Reunion Arena in Dallas.
"Any team that shoots 40 percent on threes has a chance," Williams said of the 'Zags.
Said John Rillie, Gonzaga's leading scorer who last week broke his own school record for threes in a season, "If we go 20-for-30, we can beat anybody. But we're not afraid of Maryland. They put their shorts on just like we do."
Former Maryland-Eastern Shore coach Rob Chavez, now at Portland, said that the Terps should not take their first-round opponent lightly.
But Chavez, whose team split regular-season games with Gonzaga before losing to it in the West Coast Conference tournament final, said Maryland's pressure defense might be too much for its first-round foe.
The Terps defense causes five more turnovers a game than Gonzaga's (17.8 to 12.6), but its offense also is more generous with the ball than that of the 'Zags (15.3 to 12.9).
"Maryland can't go to sleep on this team," Chavez said earlier this week. "If they go to sleep, they could be going home a lot earlier than they expect."
Maryland is hoping not to come home for a while, perhaps for the rest of the month.
The Terps packed for two weeks' worth of games, this weekend here and next week in Oakland, Calif. Since the university is on spring break starting Friday, there is no sense in making two cross-country trips.
It could be three weeks if the Terps go all the way to Seattle for the Final Four.
"We're going to take it one game at a time," said Smith, who comes into this year's tournament having been named ACC Player of the Year by the Atlantic Coast Sportswriters and first-team All-American by the Associated Press. "But we want to put together a six-game winning streak. I saw [Arkansas coach] Nolan Richardson say that you shouldn't be in it if you don't think you can win it."
Maryland is considered a near-lock to make it to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. If the Terps beat Gonzaga, they will face the winner of tonight's first game between No. 6 seed Oregon and No. 11 Texas.
"I expect us to play well," said Williams. "You're playing a team that you're not familiar with, but one that's good enough to be in the NCAAs. The biggest thing you have to do is just go out and play."
Said Gonzaga coach Dan Fitzgerald: "To be honest, when I knew we were in, I was hoping we'd play a team that always didn't play hard. We're going up against a team that always plays hard."
No matter how ungodly the hour.
NOTES: Williams said after Maryland's shoot-around last night that as of a week ago, his doctors told him that he would likely miss the first week of the NCAA tournament. Though Williams was cleared Monday night, he said, "I was going to get here no matter what. It might have been stupid or foolish, but nobody said I was really smart." . . . Asked if the 4,400-foot altitude affected the team, Johnny Rhodes said: "We couldn't breathe at first, but then we could." Said Williams: "I told them not to worry since we were playing inside."
MEN'S FIRST-ROUND GAMES
At Baltimore Arena
Wake Forest (24-5) vs. North Carolina A&T; (15-14), 12:30 p.m. Minnesota (19-11) vs. Saint Louis (22-7), 30 mins. after previous game. Alabama (22-9) vs. Pennsylvania (22-5), 7:40 p.m. Oklahoma State (23-9) vs. Drexel (22-7), 30 mins. after previous game.
At Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, N.Y.
North Carolina Charlotte (19-8) vs. Stanford (19-8), 12:30 p.m. Massachusetts (26-4) vs. St. Peter's (19-10), 30 mins. after previous game. Villanova (26-7) vs. Old Dominion (20-11), 7:40 p.m. Tulsa (22-7) vs. Illinois (19-11), 30 mins. after previous game.
At The Pyramid, Memphis, Tenn.
Oklahoma (23-8) vs. Manhattan (25-4), 12:25 p.m. Arizona State (22-8) vs. Ball State (19-10), 30 mins. after previous game. Kentucky (25-4) vs. Mount St. Mary's (17-12), 7:50 p.m. Brigham Young (22-9) vs. Tulane (22-9), 30 mins. after previous game.
At Tallahassee (Fla.)-Leon County Civic Center
Iowa State (22-10) vs. Florida (17-12), 12:15 p.m. North Carolina (24-5) vs. Murray State (21-8), 30 mins. after previous game. Michigan State (22-5) vs. Weber State (20-8), 7:40 p.m. Georgetown (19-9) vs. Xavier, Ohio (23-4), 30 mins. after previous game.
At University of Dayton (Ohio) Arena
Arizona (23-7) vs. Miami, Ohio (22-6), 12:15 p.m. Virginia (22-8) vs. Nicholls State (24-5), 30 mins. after previous game. Kansas (23-5) vs. Colgate (17-12), 7:40 p.m. Western Kentucky (26-3) vs. Michigan (17-13), 30 mins. after previous game.
At Erwin Special Events Center, Austin, Texas
Syracuse (19-9) vs. Southern Illinois (23-8), 12:25 p.m. Arkansas (27-6) vs. Texas Southern (22-6), 30 mins. after previous game. Memphis (22-9) vs. Louisville (19-13), 8 p.m. Purdue (24-6) vs. Wisconsin-Green Bay (22-7), 30 mins. after previous game.
At Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City
Connecticut (25-4) vs. Tennessee-Chattanooga (19-10), 2:40 p.m. Cincinnati (21-11) vs. Temple (19-10), 30 mins. after previous game. Oregon (19-8) vs. Texas (22-6), 8 p.m. Maryland (24-7) vs. Gonzaga (21-8), 30 mins. after previous game.
At BSU Pavilion, Boise, Idaho
Utah (27-5) vs. Long Beach State (20-9), 2:35 p.m. Mississippi State (20-7) vs. Santa Clara (21-6), 30 mins. after previous game. Missouri (19-8) vs. Indiana (19-11), 7:50 p.m. UCLA (25-2) vs. Florida International (11-18), 30 mins. after previous game.
ON TV TODAY
1% 12:30 p.m. W. Forest vs. N.C. A&T;
2:45 p.m.* Virginia vs. Nicholls St.
7:50 p.m. Ky. vs. Mount St. Mary's
10:30 p.m.* Md. vs. Gonzaga
ON TV TOMORROW
3' 12:25 p.m. Syracuse vs. S. Illinois
2:45 p.m.* N.C. vs. Murray State
7:40 p.m. Villanova vs. O. Dominion
10:10 p.m.* Georgetown vs. Xavier
All games on Ch. 13; *-approximate
* Loyola women confident heading into Oklahoma game. 5D
* Leading scorer Susie Rowlyk will need goggles to protect an eye injury when the Mount St. Mary's women face Alabama. 5D
* Mount St. Mary's men face uphill battle against Kentucky. 6D
* Capsules on the men's teams playing in the other 3 regions. 6D