What hype? With Terps, it's reality

December 04, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

COLLEGE PARK -- How good are the Maryland Terrapins? So good that they scored 32 points and built a 22-point lead over Wake Forest last night before they missed a shot.

So good that the Demon Deacons, who swept two games from the Terps last season, couldn't even get the ball over half-court for minutes at a time last night.

So good that it's obvious that a No. 2 national ranking isn't a stretch for this team.

"There is reason to be excited if you're a Maryland fan," Wake coach Dave Odom said after the Terps' 92-69 win at Cole Field House. "They are really, really good."

Sure, it's early, really early. And the Terps aren't going to keep this up, destroying every team in their path before halftime. They're going to lose some, maybe even sooner than later with such opponents as Stanford and Kentucky looming on the schedule.

But Odom is right: They're good, folks, really good. Whatever you have heard about the Terps, no matter how inflated the hype, it's all true.

Maryland hasn't had a team like this in years.

The Terps have experience, size, quickness, bulk, depth, an array of blue-chip talent and almost unbelievable flexibility. What's missing? Nothing, really.

Finally, at last, coach Gary Williams has the perfect personnel for his all-court, high-intensity style. And it is a sight to behold.

The Terps are right there with Duke and North Carolina this season, right there with Kentucky and Connecticut and the best teams in the country. And that's not hype, that's just the reality. Ask any of the numerous NBA scouts lining press row.

"I've seen them play four times already, and they're a pleasure to watch," said Tom Parrise, a scout for the New Jersey Nets. "They play the game like it should be played: 100 mph and 100 percent effort. It seems like they have great chemistry. And they're the best defensive team I've seen in the five years I've been scouting."

The Terps have already beaten UCLA by 16 points and routed a quality Pittsburgh team by 35, and they opened their ACC schedule last night with a full-court press that forced 10 turnovers in eight minutes and led to a 32-10 lead. The Terps made their first 14 shots. That is not a typo.

And let's not start with this business about it being "only" Wake Forest and "only" Pittsburgh and UCLA being young or whatever. Please. All are major programs from major conferences, solid standards against which to measure a team. And the Terps were way better in every case.

You can tell a team with Final Four potential no matter who or when it's playing. And the Terps are there.

"They have set the bar very high this year," Odom said. "The standard of excellence is very high."

Sure, there are still questions, still issues. We'll see how they do when a smart team handles their pressure and dictates a half-court game. We'll see if they're formidable enough inside defensively against a tough team. We'll see how they respond to a loss. We'll see if they continue to improve.

"It's hard to imagine them shooting better than 14-for-14," Odom said. "Maybe they will."

At this point, the most debatable issue is whether their offense or defense is better. Or even another part of the game.

"I think it's their passing," Odom said. "That's the best 'on the move' passing I've seen in a long while."

Williams has played an up-tempo style for years, but never with so many quick and quick-handed players. The Terps' pressure defense just floats downcourt, never straying far from the ball. Laron Profit, Steve Francis and Terrell Stokes made the Demons miserable with their traps last night.

It's going to be tough for a team to get through that pressure and force a slower game. The defense is that fast, that tough.

This team also has a vicious killer instinct that longtime Maryland fans have seldom seen, if ever. Long known for finding ways to make any game close, the Terps now just blast away from the opening tap and end all suspense in a hurry. They had a 54-29 lead at halftime last night, not to be confused with their 46-17 halftime lead over Pittsburgh.

The Terps have never done these things to teams before, not night after night.

They also have the flexibility born of a nine-deep rotation. Williams can choose among a big lineup, a small lineup, a shooting lineup, an experienced lineup, an explosive lineup -- you name it, really. It's a puzzle with all the pieces included, that's what it is.

It's the most talented Terps team since 1981, when Buck Williams, Albert King and Ernie Graham were playing for Lefty Driesell, and it could end up comparing favorably to the 1972-74 teams with Len Elmore, Tom McMillen and John Lucas.

Too soon for such talk? Normally, yes. But the proof is out there on the court.

"It's too early to get carried away, way too early," Williams said. "But I love the way we're playing."

How good is his team? So good that Williams has little to yell about these days. Normally a purple-veined dervish on the sidelines, he's almost calm now -- as calm as he can be, at least. Call it the ultimate tribute to a Maryland team for which the high-end potential is seemingly unlimited. They have satisfied their demanding coach.

Pub Date: 12/04/98

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