Carolina to test Terps' ability to bounce back Loss to Ga. Tech puts Maryland on its heels


When No. 16 North Carolina invades Cole Field House tonight, Maryland will test its resiliency and the theory of relativity in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season.

Resiliency because the Terps (6-4, 0-1) fell apart down the

stretch against Georgia Tech in a 98-84 loss last Wednesday and are badly in need of a big win.

Relativity because this supposedly is the year the ACC shows a balanced look from top to bottom. No dominant teams, no weak sisters.

Yet, there sit the Tar Heels at 10-2 and 1-0, threatening to make a mockery of the ACC writers' preseason poll that predicted a fourth-place finish for Carolina. (The same poll that made Maryland the preseason favorite, by the way.)

Suddenly, the question in the ACC is how good is Carolina, anyway?

Good enough to blow out North Carolina State, 96-72, Thursday without point guard and leading scorer Jeff McInnis, who's hobbled with a deep thigh bruise and questionable for tonight's game

Good enough to start two 6-foot-8 freshman forwards around 7-2 center Serge Zwikker and win seven straight nonconference games.

Good enough to spot Texas a double-digit lead on the road, play the Longhorns' up-tempo style -- and have a chance to win in the waning seconds.

Things are different in Chapel Hill this year, though. Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse are in the NBA. The once-dominant man-to-man defense has been replaced for the most part by a 1-3-1 zone.

And three freshmen are getting a lot of playing time.

The arrival and early blooming of Antawn Jamison and Ademola Okulaja -- the two 6-8 forwards -- and 6-5 Vince Carter has averted, at least to this point, the predicted fall from prominence.

Maryland coach Gary Williams even sees one area of improvement over Carolina's Final Four team of a year ago.

"Jamison, Carter and Okulaja really pound the glass," he said. "That's one of the best things they do. It's funny to say this because of who they lost, but this might be a better offensive-rebounding team than last year, because Rasheed wasn't always on the rim like these guys are, and Stackhouse was outside a lot. He wasn't always around the glass."

That sets up an intriguing matchup under the boards, where Carolina will have a decided height advantage. Even though the Terps have struggled often on offense, they have outrebounded eight of their 10 opponents so far, including Georgia Tech in Wednesday's loss. Keith Booth, at 6-6, is the Terps' leading rebounder with 7.9 a game.

Shooting is another matter for Maryland. It went south again in Atlanta. Some of it was attributable to Georgia Tech's triangle-and-two defense on guards Johnny Rhodes and Duane Simpkins. But the Terps also were rushing shots.

What disturbed Williams most was his players' short-range misses.

"We've got to find somebody that will put the ball in the basket when they have a pretty good opportunity," he said.

Williams said he expects to see a lot of zone defense from the Heels.

"They play quite a bit of zone, probably more zone than a lot of college teams right now," he said. "Because of their size, they think they're tough to score against -- and they're right."

But is Carolina upset-proof in a year when balance is the keynote of the ACC?

A year ago, Carolina came to Cole ranked No. 1 in the nation -- and lost to the Terps, 86-73. Rhodes and Simpkins scored 21 points each that game.

Maryland hasn't lost at Cole since March 2, 1994, when the Terrapins dropped a 73-69 verdict to then-No. 2 Duke. The home winning streak spans three seasons, nine ACC games and 21 contests overall.

"It's our first home game in the league; that's what makes it big to me," Williams said. "We can't get carried away in conference play about who we're playing because there are too many good teams in our league, too many teams this year that are as good as everybody else."

Relativity and resiliency will be put to the test tonight.

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