These Terps measure up to Smith's

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Maryland's 103-73 victory over Penn last night was just the type to inspire random musings, so here goes:

These Terps vs. Joe Smith's.

Which team would win?

The answer might not be as obvious as it appears.

Smith was one of the great centers in Maryland history, the national player of the year his sophomore season, the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

But was his 26-8 team two years ago superior to this one?

Maybe not.

"It would be a great game," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "Both teams play the same way. They didn't have any agendas. They just played."

Of course, there's just one problem:

Keith Booth would start for both teams.

"It'd be a fight, who would get Keith," Williams said, chuckling.

Booth's pick?

"I'm in the middle of it," he said. "You'd have to ask the young guys."

OK, Laron Profit, let 'er rip.

"It'd be tough, because they had Joe, the No. 1 player in the country," said Profit, who was a senior in high school during Smith's final season.

"But I think we would probably win. We have five guys who could score, and a more developed Keith Booth."

Profit vs. Exree Hipp, Terrell Stokes vs. Duane Simpkins

"I think I'd get the best of my matchup. I think Terrell would get the best of his matchup. Johnny [Rhodes] would probably get the best of Sarunas [Jasikevicius], but he didn't like to guard shooters. Joe and Obinna [Ekezie], that's a toss-up," Profit said, laughing.

Seriously, these Terps are better passers and better defenders, and their bench is deeper. What's more, they've already beaten Wake Forest, a team comparable to Smith's.

On the other hand

The ACC is weaker than it was two years ago. And the Terps' nonconference schedule is easier -- they played No. 5 Massachusetts at the Baltimore Arena that season, not Ivy League Penn.

So, could this group beat Smith's? Maybe not, because no one could stop Super Joe. But this still might be a better Maryland team -- or at least, it could be.

The biggest difference is upside.

This team has it, that one didn't.

Simpkins and Hipp never made dramatic strides at Maryland, but Stokes and Profit almost certainly will.

Jasikevicius is improving every game, as is Ekezie. By season's end, it's possible this team will be even more dangerous than it is now.

Then again, it's also possible the Terps are headed for a fall. Heck, it happened in '94-95. That team peaked in early February, before Williams became ill with pneumonia -- yet still advanced to the Sweet 16.

Perhaps some computer nerd in College Park will create a video game to settle it.

The matchups, please.

Ekezie and Booth vs. Smith and Booth. Stop laughing. Booth is averaging 19.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game -- not far below what Smith averaged his final season at Maryland.

Of course, he was a different player two years ago.

"My job would be to get the ball to Joe, do the dirty work," he said, laughing. "But I'd probably have 20 rebounds."

Booth as a senior is a better shooter than he was as a sophomore -- and a better leader than Smith. Ekezie, obviously, would be overmatched, but the same was true against Wake's Tim Duncan, and the Terps still prevailed.

Jasikevicius vs. Rhodes. Again, hold off the snap judgment. Rhodes was the better all-around player, especially on the boards. But Jasikevicius is a better shooter, and underrated defensively.

That doesn't mean he's as good as Rhodes, the all-time ACC leader in steals. But he might be an even more aggressive on-the-ball defender, and he's averaging only three fewer points than Rhodes did as a junior.

Profit vs. Hipp. It has become fashionable to identify Hipp as the source of all Maryland's ills last season. Even if that analysis is too harsh, let's face it -- Profit, though inconsistent, is already a better player.

Did Hipp ever hit a shot as big as the one Profit did Sunday?

Simpkins vs. Stokes. Simpkins was more of an offensive threat, and Stokes has slumped in recent ACC games, committing too many turnovers.

Stokes, though, is a superior floor general, and this is his first extended playing time as a collegian. Come March, he could be better than Simpkins. By next season, he almost certainly will be.

Rodney Elliott vs. Mario Lucas. The only thing Lucas could do was score -- and he did that only occasionally. Elliott not only is averaging more points (9.1) than Lucas did in '94-95 (7.1), but he also plays defense and rebounds.

The bench -- that might be the current Terps' biggest advantage. After Lucas, Wayne Bristol was the reserve who played the most minutes in '94-95. Matt Kovarik is far preferable. At times, he runs the team better than Stokes.

Thus, Williams has seven legitimate players -- and Brian Watkins eventually could make eight. The Terps' weakness is free-throw shooting -- they're hitting only 65 percent from the line, and that could doom them in March.

So, which team would win, these Terps or Smith's?

"I wouldn't call that one," Williams said.

Which team would he coach?

"Either one."

Pub Date: 1/22/97

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