UM to find if 10-1 FSU is for real

Revived 'Noles are test for Terps in ACC opener

December 28, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Maryland Terrapins generally have had their way when they play here, although the Terps are taking nothing for granted as they gear up for an unusual Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball opener.

Judging by their 10-1 record, the Florida State Seminoles could be rounding into a potential ACC contender for a change.

The Seminoles, under second-year coach Leonard Hamilton, start three seniors and go 10 players deep. They have one of the league's most dynamic performers in senior shooting guard Tim Pickett, feature a much-hyped recruiting class led by freshman guard Von Wafer, and are playing the stingiest defense in the conference.

No. 24 Maryland (7-2) has its own obstacles to worry about, starting with the youngest roster in the league. The Terps also are playing in only their second contest in the past two weeks, having dispatched UNC-Greensboro easily five nights ago after a nine-day break for final exams.

The Terps have won the past six meetings at the Leon County Civic Center, most handily. But Maryland also features a group of freshmen who are about to discover the constant dangers lurking on the road in the ACC.

Sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley knows. He was part of the Maryland team that barely escaped Tallahassee with a 74-72 victory last season, with a team that started five seniors. That win came against a Seminoles squad that limped home with a 14-15 record and missed the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight year.

"It's always tough on the road in the ACC. [Florida State] is a much-improved team," said Caner-Medley, who is averaging 17.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in his past three games.

"We've played in some big games and some overtime games. We've had some real good tests so far, and we've passed some of them. This is definitely another big test. That is a strange place to play."

In years past, the Terps typically have played in front of a half-empty house in the dimly lit, off-campus arena that houses the Seminoles. Because of the holiday break, it won't be surprising if the Maryland fans make their presence felt, since the Terps football team is preparing for Thursday's Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

Maryland already has a good idea of how good it can be. The Terps have beaten two ranked teams in overtime, including then-No. 1 Florida on its home court. They have seen Caner-Medley, senior center Jamar Smith, sophomore guards John Gilchrist and Chris McCray and freshman guard D.J. Strawberry take turns in the spotlight.

How good is Florida State? Although the Seminoles became the first team in the nation to win 10 games, they hardly have inspired awe while beating the likes of Georgetown College, Nicholls State, Fairleigh Dickinson, South Carolina State, Wagner, Maine and Chicago State. And the Seminoles are coming off a 63-56 loss to No. 16 Pittsburgh on Monday, in their only test against a ranked opponent.

"Sometimes, [weak scheduling] works the other way. It can build the type of confidence you need," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "[Florida State] has quietly become one of the more experienced teams in the league. They think they're good. Hopefully, we'll continue to play hard and play the way we've been playing."

Countering Florida State's tough defense and deliberate tempo figure to be keys to a Maryland victory. The Seminoles have allowed only 54.5 points per game (tops in the ACC) and 35.6 percent shooting (second).

Countering the Seminoles' guards and depth loom large as well. McCray, possibly Maryland's most improved player, will have his hands full defensively against the older Pickett, who leads Florida State in scoring (14.4 ppg) and steals (28) and is an improved shooter.

The point guard matchup also looks juicy. Gilchrist and Strawberry give Maryland a formidable one-two punch with their strength and quickness. Senior Nate Johnson and sophomore Todd Galloway have been superb for the Seminoles, teaming for 81 assists and 27 turnovers.

Look for Florida State to try to wear down Maryland in a physical, low-scoring affair that could come down to free-throw shooting - no strength of the Terps.

Ten Florida State players are averaging at least 10 minutes per game. Senior forward Michael Joiner and junior 6-foot-9 forward Anthony Richardson (11.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) are getting strong assistance from 6-10 freshman Alexander Johnson, averaging 7.9 points in 17.7 minutes.

And the 6-5 Wafer, a McDonald's All-American, is already giving Pickett some rest by playing 19 minutes per game and averaging 8.7 points.

But how good is Florida State?

"We've been trying to compete against ourselves. The thing that hurt us is we played seven games in 15 days, and that took away some valuable practice time," Hamilton said.

"Our young kids have had their moments, and they've also displayed the fact that they're still freshmen getting used to college life. I'm not too philosophical about these games. Everybody is a barometer for us right now."

Terps today

Matchup: No. 24 Maryland (7-2) at Florida State (10-1)

Site: Leon Civic Center, Tallahassee, Fla.

Time: 5:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Florida State by 2 1/2

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