COLLEGE PARK - Will they fold early, fold late or push back and test their opponent for 40 rugged minutes? Will they be desperate to counter a well-earned reputation as a team that can't win away from home and has trouble sustaining good defensive play? And will they thrive or fall with their point guard position in flux?
These are some of the things the No. 8 Maryland Terrapins are wondering as they study the Virginia Cavaliers, who visit Comcast Center tonight to round out Maryland's first trip through its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.
If history holds up, the Terps will maintain their hold on first place by having their way with Virginia, which replaced four starters from a disappointing squad, yet still sports the same troubling tendencies.
Maryland (14-4, 6-1), which has won five straight games and 10 of its past 11, has owned the Cavaliers in recent years. The Terps have won eight of their past 10 meetings with Virginia, including nine in a row in College Park, where Maryland has won its past five games by an average of 18 points.
The word has long been out on Virginia, which has played in one NCAA tournament game under fifth-year coach Pete Gillen. Get the Cavs away from Charlottesville and have some fun at their expense.
A year after losing seven of its last nine road games - a slide that relegated it to the National Invitation Tournament - Virginia (12-7, 3-4) is at it again. The Cavaliers are 1-6 on the road, and have yet to win a league contest in someone else's gym.
"That's been their history in the past. They haven't played well on the road," Maryland senior guard Calvin McCall said of the Cavaliers. "I'm expecting them to come in here and try to get a road win. I think our whole team is expecting their best shot. At the same time, they're going to get our best shot."
That could stop Virginia, which has one of the top post players in the league in senior center Travis Watson, one of the ACC's more prolific scorers in Rutgers transfer Todd Billett and one of its feel-good stories in junior backup point guard Majestic Mapp, who is back after battling serious knee injuries for nearly three years.
But some things haven't changed, such as the Cavaliers' inability to stop people. Virginia has often resembled a sieve on defense in recent seasons, particularly when forced out of its transition preference and into a half-court game. The problem was so glaring that last spring Gillen hired Rod Jensen, the head coach at Boise State for the previous eight years, to run the defense.
Things have not worked out as planned. The Cavaliers rank dead last in the ACC in scoring defense (73.5 ppg), and have surrendered an average of 82 points in their six road losses.
What's more, Virginia should be without point guard Keith Jenifer this evening. Jenifer, the former Towson Catholic player who fouled out and played only 20 minutes in Saturday's 80-60 loss at Georgia Tech, was arrested on assault and battery charges in Charlottesville on Sunday and has been suspended indefinitely by Gillen.
That leaves the point guard duty in the hands of Billett (14.3 ppg) and Mapp. Billett is more comfortable playing the off-guard. Mapp is still feeling his way back after missing 70 consecutive games spanning 1,032 days. He is averaging 9.8 minutes in the past five games.
That could spell trouble against a deep Maryland team that has shown voracious patterns on defense. The Terps are forcing 19.2 turnovers per game, including 17.4 against the league, and lead the ACC with an average of 11.5 steals.
"We haven't been able to overwhelm teams too much with our offense, but we're getting control of games for stretches of two or three minutes with our defense," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. Yet he says the Jenifer suspension could have a positive effect on Virginia.
"Sometimes you can overcome that. You don't know if that hurts them or if it will get them more ready to play," he said. "I'm sure they would like to get a road win in the conference. I'm sure Virginia will come in here flying."
NOTES: Watson leads the ACC in rebounding (10.4) and has posted 47 career double doubles. ... Maryland guards Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas each could reach 1,000 career points tonight. Blake needs 11. Nicholas, Maryland's leading scorer, needs 13. Blake also is one assist shy of 15th place on the all-time list, and could move into 13th place by recording nine assists. ... After tonight, Maryland plays its next two games and three of its next four on the road.
Matchup:No. 8 Maryland (14-4) vs. Virginia (12-7)
Site:Comcast Center, College Park
TV/Radio:ESPN2/WBAL (1090 AM)