ATLANTA -- History doesn't bode well for the Maryland basketball team in its Atlantic Coast Conference opener tonight against Georgia Tech.
The Terrapins haven't beaten the Yellow Jackets at Alexander ++ Memorial Coliseum since the 1980-81 season, and have lost seven of their eight meetings since Gary Williams became Maryland's head coach.
"We've never played them when we've gone in as equals," Williams said yesterday. "The first year I was here [1989-90], we had the talent, but there was a crisis every day. And this year's team is the least-experienced team I've ever gone into any conference with."
Williams isn't trying to make excuses for Maryland (7-2), but the reality is that the Terps might be in for a rude ACC awakening this week, with second-ranked and defending national champion North Carolina following Saturday at Cole Field House.
Considering that his team has started 0-4 and 0-5 in the ACC the past two seasons, Williams said: "We're not expected to beat Georgia Tech and North Carolina. But as long as we play well, that's great. Last year, we didn't play well against the ranked teams, and we let it affect what we did against the other teams."
The difference this season is that Maryland has played three tough non-conference games away from home before its first ACC road game. With a season-opening victory over Georgetown, a three-point defeat at Oklahoma and a 14-point loss last week to eighth-ranked Massachusetts, Williams says his team should be ready for the atmosphere of "The Thrillerdome."
"You would think we'd be able to go out and play at Georgia Tech," said Williams. "They've been through some things at least."
Two reasons why the Terps are not expected to win tonight are Travis Best and James Forrest. The hot-shooting, 6-foot-1 point guard and the massive, 6-7, 260-pound power forward, both juniors, are considered among the best players in the ACC. Forrest has been nursing a strained Achilles' tendon all season and has problems with his conditioning.
After helping No. 12 Georgia Tech (9-1) to victories over then-fourth-ranked Temple and host St. John's in the ECAC Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden, Best and Forrest should be a handful for sophomore Duane Simpkins and freshman Keith Booth.
"Of all the guards in the ACC, Travis Best gave me the most trouble last season because of his quickness," said Simpkins, who is coming off his best offensive game this season, an 18-point performance against Massachusetts. "It's going to be more than just defense. It's going to be my offense, too, trying to make him tired."
Said Booth: "I'm going to try to use my quickness, because that's something I'm going to do against any guy that's bigger than me."
Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins says his Yellow Jackets have been more lucky than good this season. They beat Vanderbilt after All-American Billy McCaffrey opened the door by missing two free throws late in regulation. They beat St. John's on a basket by Ivano Newbill after it appeared that the 35-second clock expired.
"We haven't played our best basketball yet," Cremins said yesterday.
Asked to explain his team's run of success against Maryland, Cremins said: "We've played really well against them. Maybe we've caught them in a transition period. I wish it would continue."
Considering how the Terps have fared here over the years, it should continue for at least another night.