Terps take poll vault, landing at No. 18 in AP

January 25, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- The new-found respect the University of Maryland basketball team has earned in the Atlantic Coast Conference is starting to spread nationally, as evidenced by the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll.

One week after getting their first national ranking in more than eight years -- and barely making it to No. 25 -- the Terrapins jumped more than any other team in the poll released yesterday by moving to No. 18.

It is the highest ranking for a Maryland team since the Terps were No. 17 during the first week of the 1985-86 season, and the highest ranking at a similar juncture of the season since the 1983-84 team was No. 17.

"It's amazing. We beat N.C. State and we move up 10 spots in one poll [from 31 to 21 in the USA Today-CNN coaches' poll] and seven in the other [the AP poll of writers and broadcasters]," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "It's nice for the team and good for the people around here. But right now I'm concerned about Clemson."

Off to its best start in the ACC in 10 years and coming off its largest margin of victory in 20, Maryland (11-3, 4-1) will have to work to maintain that ranking when it plays host to Clemson tomorrow before going to Durham, N.C., to play second-ranked Duke on Saturday on ESPN.

The Terps have won only three of nine games against the Tigers in Williams' four seasons at Maryland, and haven't beaten Duke in 13 meetings since a 72-69 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium during the 1986-87 season.

"When I hear somebody say something good about the team or about me, I try to put it in the back of my mind as fast as I can," said sophomore point guard Duane Simpkins, whose recent streak of seven straight double-figure-scoring games has coincided with Maryland's return to prominence. "You can lose a little focus when you get into the hype of the rankings."

Not that the Terps aren't enjoying their status as the area's top program -- Georgetown and, more recently, George Washington have fallen out of the Top 25 -- and their position in the ACC, a

half-game behind the first-place Blue Devils. It was obvious at practice yesterday.

Players who a year ago were about to embark on a seven-game ACC losing streak (en route to a 2-14 regular season) with a loss to Clemson are more relaxed, more confident and having more fun. Williams, too, is not wound nearly as tightly as he was when his team was struggling.

"I think everyone's having a lot more fun because we're doing what nobody expected us to," said sophomore forward Exree Hipp. "But a lot of the players were sitting around talking [before practice] that now that we're as high as we are, we've got to prove we belong there. We know it's not going to be easy."

There's a feeling on this team of mostly freshmen and sophomores that this week's ranking might not be the highest Maryland gets this season. But the Terps also realize that two straight defeats could send them hurtling out of the spotlight, and the Top 25, as quickly as they have come.

"We're ranked in the Top 25, and hopefully if we win these games, we can keep going, maybe move into the Top 10 or Top 5," said freshman forward Keith Booth, showing the confidence that is quickly becoming this team's trademark. "But we've got a long season ahead of us and there's a lot of room to improve."

But Maryland has something now it didn't have when this season began. Respect, in the ACC and around the country.

* NOTE: Freshman center Joe Smith was stopped for the first time in a while yesterday. Trying to become the only player besides former Georgia Tech star Kenny Anderson to be named ACC Rookie of the Week four consecutive times, Smith was thwarted by Jeff Capel of Duke.

Capel had 18 points and 16 assists in victories over Florida State and N.C. State. Smith had 24 points, 13 rebounds, five steals and four blocks in a 102-70 win over the Wolfpack.

Capel became only the third freshman in six weeks to win the award, with Smith having won four times and North Carolina's Jerry Stackhouse -- the overwhelming preseason choice for Rookie of the Year -- once.

MARYLAND MOMENTUM

Where Maryland has been ranked in the Associated Press poll the past four weeks:

Date ... ... ... ... Record ... ... ... ... Ranking

Jan. 3 .. .. ... ... 7-2 ... ... .. ... ... co-No. 45

Jan. 10 ... .. .. .. 8-3 ... ... ... .. ... No. 28

Jan. 17 ... .. .. .. 10-3 .. ... ... .. ... No. 25

Jan. 24 ... .. .. .. 11-3 .. ... ... .. ... No. 18

AP TOP 25

The Top 25 teams in the Associated Press men's basketball poll, with first-place votes in parentheses, records through Sunday, total points based on 25 for a first-place vote through point for a 25th-place vote and ranking in last week's poll:

No. School ... ... ... ... ... Record ... ... ... Pts ... ... Pvs

1. UCLA (59) ... ... .. .. ... 13-0 ... ... .. .. 1,619 .. .. 2

2. Duke (6) ... ... ... ... .. 13-1 ... ... .. .. 1,542 .. .. 5

3. Kansas ... ... ... .. .. .. 17-2 ... ... .. .. 1,388 .. .. 1

4. North Carolina ... .. .. .. 14-3 ... ... .. .. 1,319 .. .. 4

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