Sentimental journey would be the better path for Maryland

NCAA Tournament

March 12, 2001|By JOHN EISENBERG

Former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell is this year's old guy everyone is rooting for in the NCAA tournament. Ray Meyer and Jim Phelan have filled the role before, and now it's time for "Ol' `Ah Know, You Know,' " who has transformed Georgia State from a nothing into a something.

Driesell, 69, gets Wisconsin in a first-round West Regional game Thursday, and if his 11th-seeded Panthers can upset a team that went all the way to the Final Four a year ago, they'll probably get Maryland in the second round.

That's right, Lefty against Maryland - in Boise, Idaho, of all places. And who says the buttoned-down NCAA tournament committee doesn't have a funny bone?

For those scoring at home, it would be the man who once said he would turn Maryland into the UCLA of the East taking on Maryland, which ultimately fired him, with a little-known team that is now the Coppin State of the South, or something like that. Got it?

You would think Gary Williams and the Terps would rather see almost anyone else cross their NCAA path. They'd be big-time heavies against Driesell, the bad guys in a March Madness soap opera, the prime-time team from the smarty-pants league that everyone would love to see get embarrassed against a sentimental favorite.

But guess what? That would be preferable to a second-round game against Wisconsin, which has already beaten Maryland this season and plays a deliberate style that often bothers the Terps.

Strange as it sounds, Maryland should be rooting for Driesell to pull the upset and set up the tournament's only second-round matchup that would be stranger than fiction.

Playing the heavy would be easier than playing Wisconsin.

After going out in the second round to UCLA a year ago, the Terps would be fortunate to get Georgia State in the same spot with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.

Nothing against Driesell's team. The Panthers are 28-4 and dangerous, a classic Lefty creation with eight new players, transfers from all over the place. They can run and shoot and play ball. "We're no Mickey Mouse team," Driesell, ever quotable, said last night.

You can compare them to, say, the College of Charleston team that eliminated the Terps in one of those first-round debacles in 1997.

But Maryland can handle such a team this year. Just ask Duke.

The Terps believe they are playing as well as anyone with six wins in their past seven games, and the NCAA tournament committee obviously agreed, awarding them a No. 3 seed despite 10 losses,

The other No. 3 seeds are Boston College, which went 26-4 and won the Big East's regular-season and postseason titles; Ole Miss, which won 25 games and reached the Southeastern Conference tournament final; and Florida, which was a serious candidate for a No. 1 seed until getting upset in the SEC tournament last week.

For the Terps to end up in such company with a 21-10 record is remarkable. Alabama went 21-10 in the SEC, a league judged tougher than the Atlantic Coast Conference by the committee, and Alabama didn't even make the NCAA's 65-team field.

The Terps obviously have some support in the right places, as well they should after watching Duke destroy North Carolina for the second time in a week yesterday in the ACC tournament final. The Terps took Duke to the final buzzer on the same court Saturday, and they have played the No. 1-seeded Blue Devils tougher than any other team all season.

They might be a miraculous No. 3, given the crisis they were experiencing just a few weeks ago, but they're also a deserving No. 3.

That eased their first-round load, make no mistake. Had they slipped to a No. 4 seed in the West, they would have played solid mid-major Kent State in the first round. Instead, they get George Mason, a surprising conference champion that went 16-11 during the regular season against a relatively light schedule.

Maryland obviously should have little trouble with George Mason, which scored 35 points in winning the Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship game.

But then comes the second round and - cue the ominous music - memories of UCLA a year ago.

Wisconsin is one of those teams no one wants to play, smart and disciplined and more than able after a season in the Big Ten, which has two No. 1 seeds and more teams in the field than any other conference. The Badgers would be certain to control the tempo and slow down the pace. That's the only kind of team that could knock off the Terps in the first two rounds.

If the Terps make it to the West semifinals, they probably would get physical Iowa State in the Sweet 16, then top-seeded Stanford in the final if they make it. That's a tough, tough road to where Gary Williams and the Terps have never gone, the Final Four.

Driesell got them closer than anyone else, reaching the regional finals twice in the '70s. You know he would relish the chance to keep them from getting that close again, although time seems to have closed a lot of the old wounds from his departure; he came to a Maryland practice at the ACC tournament last week, and Williams introduced him to the players.

"Ah use t'coach ya'll," he probably said, "and then ah got fa-erd."

Oh, yes, Lefty-Maryland would be a blast. And for the Terps, oddly enough, preferable.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.