'Mature, focused' Navy eager to prove it's up to Carolina challenge Old records reveal past pattern of Mid success when facing Tar Heels

March 09, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

It's there in black and white for all to see: the all-time basketball series between Navy and North Carolina stands at 14-5 in favor of the Midshipmen.

Of course, it should be noted that the two teams have not met since 1959. But such small details did not dampen the enthusiasm of the Mids (19-10), who will play the Tar Heels (30-3) in the opening round of the NCAA tournament's East Regional in Hartford, Conn., on Thursday.

Who's afraid of the big, bad Tar Heels? Not the Mids, judging by the loud whoop of celebration that was sounded in Alumni Hall on the Naval Academy campus when they were in the first pairing announced in the 64-team field.

"We might as well play the best right out of the box," said Navy athletic director Jack Lengyel.

Being a 16th seed, Navy had to decide which was the lesser of four evils as a first-round opponent -- North Carolina, Arizona, Kansas or Duke.

"Actually, I thought we'd be playing Kansas in Oklahoma City," said Navy coach Don DeVoe. But the NCAA selection committee decided to match Kansas with Prairie View (13-16), the only team with a losing record in the tournament.

"Last year, they had us play Utah in Tucson," Devoe added. "I guess this year they decided to put more emphasis on geography as far as the pairings went."

DeVoe is old enough to remember the 1940s when then Navy coach Ben Carnevale regularly beat North Carolina. But things changed dramatically at Chapel Hill with the arrival of Dean Smith, and there has been no letup this season under Smith's former longtime assistant Bill Guthridge.

"It seems every time you turn on the TV this season, it's Carolina playing," said DeVoe. "It's obvious they have great talent. Antawn Jamison is probably going to be named Player of the Year. And Ed Cota, Shammond Williams and Vince Carter would stars wherever they played."

But DeVoe refuses to regard his team as sacrificial lambs.

"I've taken three Navy teams to the NCAA, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is the best one I've had," DeVoe said of his repeat Patriot League champions. "We're much more athletic than in the past, and we've really stepped up our game offensively the last five home games [averaging 81.4 points]. We've added depth, size and speed with [sophomore] Sitapha Savane and Chris Williams, but, of course, we would have to play a perfect game to beat North Carolina."

A major concern of DeVoe will be keeping his co-captain and second leading scorer Hassan Booker out of the foul problems that hindered him throughout the Patriot League tourney. If the Mids play their customary man-to-man defense, Booker, a feisty 6-3 forward, will be matched against the 6-9 Jamison.

But Booker welcomes the challenge.

"If I can deny Jamison the ball, he can't score," Booker said. "We'll have to do a good job of pressuring their guards and make sure we keep them off the offensive boards and dive for all the loose balls.

"I got some cheap fouls in the Patriot League tourney. I can't be careless, but at the same time I've got to remain physical. If I don't play all out, I'm worthless."

Co-captain Michael Heary, who regained his scoring touch with 26 points in the conference championship game against Lafayette, senses a difference between the Navy team that lost to Utah and Keith Van Horn in Tucson last March, 75-61, and this year's edition.

"Last year, we were caught up in everything but the game itself," said the senior point guard, who made only two of 12 shots against the Utes. "When the game started we were pretty nervous. But now we're a lot more mature and focused."

To which Booker added succinctly, "Last year against Utah, it was 'Let's try to win.' Now it's 'Let's win.' Period."

State of hoops

This is the seventh time that the state of Maryland has placed two or more teams in the NCAA Division I tournament:

1985 Maryland, Navy

1986 Maryland, Navy

1990 Coppin State, Towson State

1994 Maryland, Navy, Loyola

1995 Maryland, Mount St. Mary's

1997 Maryland, Navy, Coppin State

1998 Maryland, Navy

Pub Date: 3/09/98

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