Terps to do Charleston in Big Dance Players seem stunned to face 12th seed that's also 17th-ranked, 28-2

TAAC titlist on 22-game run

Williams: These guys are not secret anymore

March 10, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

There was not much of a reaction last night when the Maryland Terrapins learned where they were going and whom they were playing in the first round of this year's NCAA tournament. The silence in the lounge adjoining their locker room at Cole Field House could be viewed a couple of ways. Either they were stunned or just plain confused.

Or both.

Forward Rodney Elliott said that he didn't know much about the College of Charleston, except that the Cougars have the nation's longest winning streak. Guard Laron Profit knew quite a bit about the school, if not the team, from the city in which he spent the first six years of his life.

And Maryland coach Gary Williams saw something else.

The tournament selection committee had given the 22nd-ranked Terrapins probably the toughest opening-round matchup for a fifth seed, though they have been ranked in the Top 25 for the past two months and play in what is generally regarded as the best league in college basketball.

"It's interesting that we're playing the 18th-ranked [actually 17th] team in the country, and they're seeded 12th," said Williams.

It is believed to be the first time since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985 that a team ranked so high was seeded so low. Except for a first-round matchup between Cal and Princeton, Thursday's game between Maryland (21-10) and the College of Charleston (28-2) in the Southeast Regional at the Pyramid

in Memphis, Tenn., no other game has the word "upset" written all over it.

If you can call the Terrapins favorites. The Cougars have won 22 straight games and beat Stanford in the second round of the season-opening Great Alaska Shootout. The Trans America Athletic Conference champions have the kind of team that gives the Terps problems: guard-oriented with senior point guard Anthony Johnson the TAAC's Player of the Year. They also have a strong inside player, in this case 6-foot-8, 250-pound center Thaddeous Delaney, the so-called Shaq of the TAAC.

"You watch games on television early in the season, and I saw them beat Stanford," said Williams. "I was very impressed with them. They're like a lot of teams; they don't get a lot of attention. But these guys are not a secret to anyone anymore now that they're ranked. It's not like last year."

Last year's opening-round loss to Santa Clara will certainly be on Maryland's mind going into this game. So will the fact that the Terrapins have lost eight of 12 games, the most recent a 65-58 defeat to North Carolina State in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament Saturday in Greensboro, N.C.

"We're walking a thin line," said Williams. "When we're ready to VTC play, we've proven we're good enough to beat the No. 2 team in the country. When we're not, we can lose."

Said senior forward Keith Booth: "We feel that this is our next game, and we have to do everything we need to in order to get ready. The regular season and the ACC tournament are behind us."

Even though the Terrapins won't really know much about the Cougars until they watch tape on them today, Elliott said his current teammates won't make the same mistake that some of his former ones did last year in preparing for Santa Clara.

"We know that anybody can be beaten," the junior forward said. "We just have one team to think about right now. There are a lot of questions about them, but we'll find out about them this week."

If any Maryland player knows about College of Charleston, it's Profit. He still goes back to play in the summer leagues and still has loads of friends and relatives living in the South Carolina city. When Maryland played at Clemson earlier this season, about 20 of them came to the game.

Asked if that adds some pressure on him, Profit said: "I definitely have some, because I have to go home this summer and I don't want that hanging over my head."

Aside from being put into a bracket that also includes top-ranked Kansas, there were some positives that the Terrapins could take from last night into this week. The biggest thing was that they weren't shipped West for the third straight year.

"I think it's a plus to be playing closer to home and give our fans a chance to get to the game," said Williams.

It marks the fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament for the Terps under Williams, the second time that's been accomplished at Maryland. The two appearances before last year's disappointment ended in Sweet 16 success.

It means that every one of Maryland's regulars has played in at least one NCAA tournament game, and Booth has played in seven. That can work to his team's advantage, given that the College of Charleston has been in one NCAA tournament game before this one. As a 12th seed, the Cougars lost to Wake Forest, 68-58, in the opening round three seasons ago.

But Williams recalls what happened three years ago, when the Terrapins were making their first trip in six years.

"Playing in an NCAA tournament game is different," he said. "We were very nervous in the locker room before we played Saint Louis in the first game, but we went out there and played very well. The guys from the College of Charleston have to be nervous, but that doesn't mean they won't be ready to play."

The way things have gone lately for Maryland, Williams hopes his team will be ready, too.

Pub Date: 3/10/97

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