Every time the No. 2 Terps have prepared for a game in this young basketball season, the presumption has been that improved competition will finally test coach Gary Williams' gang.
As the blowouts have piled up in an 8-0 start, however, it's become obvious that the opposition has to worry more about adjustments than does Maryland.
"Stanford is very experienced, real big, they use the power game," Terps point guard Terrell Stokes said. "We're not going to change anything for this game. Maybe we'll have to play more half-court offense, but good teams can adapt to anything."
The Terps get their first full-scale national exposure today (1 p.m., ABC) against the Cardinal in the semifinals of the BB&T; Classic at the MCI Center. The second pairing is George Washington against DePaul, and the consolation and title games in the fourth annual fund-raiser for a children's charity will be played tomorrow night.
With the shrieks of Dick Vitale as a backdrop for what should be their stiffest challenge of a season in which their average margin of victory exceeds 35 points, the question is if the Terps' &L; quickness will reign again. They have been awesome, baby.
Williams is proud of his nine-man rotation, but his depth does not match Stanford's, as coach Mike Montgomery uses 11 players. The Cardinal also has one of the biggest teams in the nation.
In last Thursday's ACC rout of Wake Forest, Williams tinkered with a lineup that had Steve Francis at the point and Laron Profit and 6-foot-8 freshman Danny Miller on the wings. Montgomery's concern isn't that Maryland can match his size, but that his team won't be able to catch the Terps.
"They're very, very active guys, who can really fly and play above the rim," Montgomery said of Maryland. "Francis is a good addition. They present a lot of problems with their talent."
With Arthur Lee at the point, Stanford is averaging 12.4 turnovers a game. Maryland causes more than 22 per game with various forms of pressure. Turnovers have been turned into easy baskets.
In a game in which all phases can be seamlessly connected for a team when all is well, the pressure also has benefited Maryland's half-court game.
After dealing with Maryland's traps and scrambles, some opponents haven't had enough physical or emotional strength remaining to effectively defend in the half-court against a team that has five players, from sophomore forward Terence Morris to freshman reserve Juan Dixon, averaging between 11 and 17 points.
Because its pressure has been so remarkable, half-court defense has not been an issue for Maryland, but it could become one today.
Stanford is shooting horribly (40 percent), but has played volleyball on the offensive boards, where it has averaged nearly 19 rebounds. Against a Cardinal front line that features 7-2 Tim Young and 6-9 Mark Madsen, big Terps reserves Mike Mardesich and Lonny Baxter better be ready to play more than their normal 15 and 12 minutes, respectively.
This group of Cardinal players took eventual champion Kentucky into overtime in the NCAA semifinals last season, and its national championship designs were considered more realistic than Maryland's in the preseason.
The one-game-at-a-time credo espoused by Profit prohibits thinking about March. While No. 1 Connecticut's 82-68 win over RTC Michigan State means that Maryland will remain a heartbeat away from the top spot, the postseason implications of today's game are more important than the rankings.
Just as a win over Kansas in the semifinals of this tournament last year helped Maryland get a No. 4 NCAA seed, defeating the probable Pac-10 champions would look good on the Terps' expanding resume.
Maryland can't afford to harbor any thoughts about tomorrow night -- and the chance at avenging last year's unsettling, title-game loss to George Washington. They've got more than enough to concern themselves with today, as the Terps discover which is the greater weapon, their quickness or Stanford's size.
"Hopefully, our defense will cause some problems," Williams said after practice here yesterday afternoon. "We might be good at it, we might not. We'll sure find out."
At the MCI Center
Today No. 2 Maryland (8-0) vs. No. 5 Stanford (4-1), 1 p.m., Chs. 2, 7 DePaul (4-1) vs. George Washington (3-1), 4 p.m., HTS
Tomorrow Consolation, 6 p.m. Championship, 8: 30 p.m.
Pub Date: 12/06/98