The personality of a college basketball program is mostly thought to be a reflection of its coach, players and fans. There is another factor in this formula, one incapable of displaying human emotion, yet still managing to have a life of its own.
It is a team's home court.
It can be a cramped, crazy gym, such as Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, as suffocating as the defense the Blue Devils often play. It can be as roomy and rowdy as Kentucky's Rupp Arena, the perfect stage for the racehorse style the Wildcats have used for generations.
And sometimes, in a cavernous building, such as North Carolina's Dean E. Smith Center - commonly known as "The Dean Dome" - it can seem more like a basketball museum. Former Florida State and Dunbar star Sam Cassell labeled it appropriately after playing there for the first time. "A cheese and wine crowd," he called it.
When a team moves from one venue into another, as Maryland will do this season in leaving overheated, often hyped-up and significantly historic Cole Field House for the creature comforts of the state-of-the-art Comcast Center, the scrutiny of its home court intensifies.
"This is a great opportunity for our players," Maryland coach Gary Williams said last month shortly after the $108 million facility was officially opened. "They want to showcase this place. They want to show how good the arena is, but also show that we're a good basketball team."
Williams is not big on introductions.
"We can't waste a lot of time looking up at the lights or whatever you check out in a new building," said Williams, who'll be starting his 14th season as head coach at his alma mater. "Midnight Madness will take care of all that stuff."
Midnight Madness, held last month, might have loosened the rims and eased some of the logistical kinks both in terms of getting to the new gym and getting around in it. But it will take longer to answer many questions about the kind of atmosphere the 17,950-seat on-campus arena will provide for the Terrapins.
Will the defending national champions be as successful at home this season as they were last season, when they finished unbeaten (15-0) for only the fifth time in school history?
Will the 4,000 students who'll ring the court and serve as a human backboard behind one basket create the level of noise, distraction and general lunacy that existed at Cole?
Will the temperature gauge in the new arena suddenly be turned up a few degrees when some of Maryland's biggest rivals, particularly those despised Blue Devils and hated Tar Heels, pay their first visit?
Those questions will start being addressed Tuesday, when the men's team plays its first exhibition game of the season against the Harlem Globetrotters, beginning at 7.
The more legitimate comparisons with old king Cole - particularly the team's home record - will start being made when Maryland plays the first of 16 games at Comcast Center this season against Miami (Ohio) on Nov. 24.
"The way we had it at Cole, that helped us out a lot, as loud as it was, as hot as it was, that worked in our advantage," said senior forward-center Tahj Holden. "This being bigger and more advanced, it might not be as loud."
Roomy with a view
One of the reasons Williams came to Maryland as a high school player out of South Jersey was that Cole reminded him of the fabled Palestra in Philadelphia, just bigger. As much as he hated to leave Cole last spring, Williams said a new facility is vital to the program.
"It's as good as any on-campus arena, if not the best," Williams said. "This place was built for basketball. It's not [just] an arena they play basketball in. If you've been up top yet, it's just incredible how well you can see from the highest seats. They did a great job of enclosing the basketball floor."
Yet, there is always a period of adjustment.
Players might discover they prefer one basket to another or that the ball bounces differently on one side of the floor. Fans could figure out which of the 37 bathrooms has the shortest line and which of a smorgasbord of concession stands serves the hottest food.
And Williams might have to be patient - not one of his typical character traits - for his team to take full advantage of its new digs. Based on what other teams have done after making a similar move, the degree of continued success varies.
At Syracuse, for example, the Orangemen's 57-game home winning streak was broken in their last regular-season game in 1980 - prompting then-Georgetown coach John Thompson to bellow into the public address microphone, "Manley Field House is officially closed" - and the team went 11-3 in its first regular season at the Carrier Dome.
"We moved from such a small place to such a big place, and it really took time getting used to it," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "I don't think they have as big of a move. You're going up to a little bigger [capacity], but not much bigger. I don't think it will be as significant as ours was."