One is new, No. 5 Maryland coming to grips with the demands of life as a marked team after more than a decade as an upstart. The other is getting old, the difficulty the Terps have had winning big games on an opponent's court.
"I've always felt that the greatest wins are the ones on the road, against a good team," said Terps coach Gary Williams, whose team has lost five straight on the courts of Top 25 foes.
It's a pivotal Atlantic Coast Conference game, matching the quickness and experience of Maryland (15-2, 3-1) against the youth and size of No. 9 North Carolina (14-3, 2-1). The Terps can solidify their second-place standing behind Duke. If they lose, they'll drop back to third place.
"In order to make a statement, we have to play well down there," said Steve Francis, the junior guard who's averaging 16.7 points, 4.7 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.6 steals.
Maryland last won on a ranked opponent's court on Jan. 19, 1997, when then-sophomore Laron Profit hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to knock off No. 2 Wake Forest. The Terps' only experience against a quality team in a hostile environment this season came at Kentucky, but Profit and the other seniors are comfortable at the Smith Center.
Profit, point guard Terrell Stokes and center Obinna Ekezie won there when they were freshmen and sophomores. How many other ACC visitors have had the chance to finish their careers with a 3-1 record in the arena named after the winningest coach in the history of Division I?
"Beating Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge down there two times, that's pretty good," Stokes said. "Because we've won there before, there won't be as much pressure."
A year ago tomorrow, Maryland handed Guthridge his first loss as a head coach, in a Cole Field House conquest of the top-ranked Tar Heels. North Carolina came back to twice beat the Terps, who had five games against Tobacco Road teams on their turf, but won only at N.C. State.
Three days ago, Maryland humiliated the Wolfpack in the most lopsided ACC game either program has ever had. The Terps scored 29 points off turnovers as N.C. State gave up the ball a whopping 31 times, and Maryland's pressure was the focus of preparation for North Carolina during a week off.
"Maryland uses its quickness and pressure well," Guthridge said. "Gary Williams always does a good job with that. He has even better players this year, and they've helped. Our assist-to-turnover ratio has been a problem, and unless we handle the ball and execute well, it will reduce our chances."
Like N.C. State, North Carolina doesn't have an abundance of ball-handlers, but in Ed Cota it has a premier point guard. Cota learned his job from assistant coach Phil Ford, who was one of the best press breakers ever, and a team that uses three freshmen and three sophomores leans on him heavily.
"We're fortunate to have a point guard who doesn't turn the ball over," said Kris Lang, a 6-foot-10 freshman forward. "He's allowed us to overcome our mistakes."
Despite the early exits of Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter, North Carolina started 8-0, including wins over Purdue and Stanford in the Preseason NIT. The Tar Heels then got in the habit of playing to the level of their opponent, losing to the College of Charleston and Georgia Tech.
The Tar Heels have taken twice as many free throws as their opponents. Williams talked up North Carolina's inside game, and while Lang and 7-foot sophomore Brendan Haywood are expected to develop into a solid tandem on the baseline, Ekezie, Terence Morris and Mike Mardesich all had their moments against the Tar Heels last season.
Morris and Mardesich delivered last season's overtime win for Maryland, when it wore down North Carolina. For the second straight season, Guthridge has given the bulk of the minutes to six players, and Cota played 39 minutes last week at Florida State.
North Carolina will try to force a half-court game. As always, Maryland wants to run.
"Because they're so big, we can outrun them," Stokes said. "We're going to try to make them get tired."
NOTES: Williams does not expect to see former Tar Heel Michael Jordan in the house tonight, even though he figures to have a free night. Both starting small forwards are on a three-point roll. Profit has made 10 of his past 16 shots beyond the arc, and Ademola Okulaja has hit 13 of his past 19. The Tar Heels have played at the Smith Center once since Dec. 17. Maryland has four wins at the Smith Center, the most by a visitor. Approximately 800 $23 tickets for Tuesday's game against Georgia Tech went on sale yesterday. They can be purchased by calling 1-800-462-TERP.
Opponent: North Carolina
Site: Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C.
TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)
Rankings: Maryland, No. 5; North Carolina, No. 9
Line: Maryland by 4 1/2
Road to nowhere
Maryland has lost five straight on a ranked opponent's court heading into tonight's game at No. 9 North Carolina:
Date Opponent Score
12/12/98 No. 5 Kentucky 91-103
2/14/98 No. 1 N. Carolina 67-85
1/29/98 No. 1 Duke 59-86
12/4/97 No. 17 Clemson 65-70
2/8/97 No. 10 Clemson 68-80
Pub Date: 1/13/99