BOISE, Idaho - Even Gary Williams acknowledges that he was pulling for Lefty Driesell to make it to this game.
Well, the Lefthander is here, with his folksy charm and effortless stream of one-liners and the same bald pate that once was an indelible part of College Park scenery.
And when Williams and Driesell walk onto the Boise State University Pavilion court today, when Maryland and Georgia State continue a wild, opening weekend in the West region with a second-round battle that will yield a Sweet 16 member, two Terrapins eras will converge.
The man who put Maryland on the collegiate basketball map in the 1970s and had 17 productive years before being forced out following the death of superstar Len Bias in 1986 will square off against the man who has defined the Terps for the past 12 seasons. Somewhere, the NCAA tournament selection committee is smiling.
But leave it to Lefty to blow the pre-game plots to smithereens.
"Y'all are trying to make something out of nothing. Y'all make it out to be some vendetta. It's just a basketball game, and it's going to last 40 minutes and somebody's going to win and somebody's going to lose. I don't care who we're playing," Driesell said.
"I got paycheck from Maryland for, what, 17 years. They paid me for nine years after I left. They bought me a house at the beach and a boat and cars and all of that stuff. So I have nothing against Maryland. I have a lot of friends there. Tomorrow when we tip it up, we're going to war. After the game, we'll kiss and hug each other."
Driesell is one of only three coaches in NCAA history to take four different teams to the national tournament. He did it at Davidson, Maryland and James Madison, which made the NCAAs in 1994. And he has done it again by resurrecting Georgia State, the Trans America Athletic Conference champion that had experienced only three winning seasons in 35 years before Driesell arrived in 1997.
The 11th-seeded Panthers (29-4) have won more games than any team in school history. They have done it with a run-and-gun, three-guard philosophy built on the three-point shot and pressure defense, and they have done it with only one player taller than 6 feet 7.
Georgia State set the tone for the upsets that took Boise by storm on Thursday, which culminated with 15th-seeded Hampton's shocker over No. 2 seed Iowa State. The Panthers made up a 16-point first-half deficit, then erased a late five-point deficit against sixth-seeded Wisconsin before taking down the Badgers, participants in last year's Final Four.
"I was rooting for Lefty [against Wisconsin], because it's been so long since he's been in the tournament," Williams said. "He's one of those people that is important to the history of college basketball. Look at him. He's 69. All he has ever wanted to do was coach basketball. That's his life. That's who he is.
"As far as playing against Lefty, I'm sure there are a lot of stories, and a lot of things have been written. We're playing Georgia State and it's an NCAA game. When it comes time to play, it's Maryland vs. Georgia State. It's not Lefty vs. Maryland."
The Terps, seeking to advance to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time under Williams, are hoping for a cleaner script in their second Boise showing. In the first round, Maryland survived against a more inspired George Mason team by escaping with an 83-80 victory, on a day when their frontcourt of Lonny Baxter and Terence Morris barely showed up, scoring a combined six points on 1-for-7 shooting.
George Mason controlled the tempo by slowing down the game and bleeding the shot clock. But the Patriots could not stop the backcourt of Juan Dixon and Steve Blake and swingman Byron Mouton, who combined to score 57 points and made the big plays in crunch time.
Today promises to be an up-tempo affair, in which the scoring could soar into the 90s.
"With all of the hype going into the game with Lefty, I'm not getting caught up in it. I'm thinking about Georgia State," Dixon said. "They're pretty good. They've got an inside-out game, and they have great perimeter players. We have another tough game."
"They have four players on the floor who can shoot the three," added Williams, mindful of such talents as Georgia Tech transplant Kevin Morris (13.1 ppoints per game, 35.2 percent three-point shooter), Georgetown transplant Shernard Long (17.9 ppg, 36.3 percent) and Thomas Terrell (16.7 ppg, 36.3 percent).
"In the tournament, anybody can beat anybody. That's what is so crazy about it, and so far a lot of great teams have already lost," Blake said. "We know we have to come out and play very well against Georgia State. Those lower seeds have beaten some really good teams, so obviously, they can really play."
And if you listen to Long talk about Georgia State's motivation, it goes a tad deeper than winning and sending the Panthers to Anaheim, Calif., for regionals weekend. Yes, there is something extra to this Maryland thing.
"It would definitely be a gift to [Driesell] to come away with that win," Long said. "I don't know how much he's concentrating on it. He tends to hide his emotions a lot. He's trying to make us think it's just another game. But I know it's going to be very special for him."
Next for Terps
Opponent: Georgia State in NCAA tournament West Regional second round.
Seeds, records: No. 3 Maryland 22-10; No. 11 Georgia State 29-4.
When: Today, 3:20 p.m.
Site: BSU Pavilion, Boise, Idaho
TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)