UM, Syracuse forget about past glories

Last two NCAA titlists thinking only of today as they play in Denver

Matchup is study in contrasts

For Williams, Boeheim, a coaching chess game

Ncaa Tournament

March 20, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

DENVER - All that is standing between the Maryland Terrapins and their fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 is a huge scoring threat, a tremendous leaper, a bothersome zone defense and a coach who has been there and done that many times over.

This is about as attractive as it gets in a second-round game. No. 19 Maryland against No. 20 Syracuse, pitting the previous two national champions against each other for only the third time in NCAA tournament history.

Two coaches in Maryland's Gary Williams and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim with a combined 54 seasons, 1,197 victories and 65 tournament wins on their resumes. Two programs that offer contrasting ways to pursue the same prize.

The Terps (20-11) are grounded in man-to-man defense, love to generate tempo and easy baskets with their press, can wear opponents down with their nine-man rotation and are riding a blast of late-season momentum that has not been seen since their 2002 run to the NCAA title.

Syracuse (22-7) throws a net over opposing offenses in the form of its 2-3 zone defense, which the Orangemen would prefer to play exclusively, although Syracuse turned to its man-to-man with excellent results in its first-round victory over BYU.

The Terps take the cue of sophomore point guard John Gilchrist, their top scorer and emotional leader.

But Maryland has won a season-high six consecutive games - its longest winning streak since its 6-0 championship run in the 2002 tournament - because it is deeper and more balanced, disciplined and confident than at any other stretch of this season.

After slipping past Texas-El Paso with a tense, 86-83 first-round win in the Phoenix Regional, just four days after its stunning Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title, the most inexperienced team in the ACC is sticking its chest out a bit.

Not that Syracuse doesn't have Maryland's full attention.

The Terps know sophomore point guard Gerry McNamara, the author of a 43-point show against BYU, could deny them an eighth trip to the Sweet 16 in the past 11 seasons.

They know 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Hakim Warrick, who has leaping ability that recalls former Terp Chris Wilcox, could take control of the paint. And they know that 2-3 zone could put a crimp in an offense that is averaging 88.3 points in the last four games.

More than anything, the Terps have McNamara-Warrick on the brain. With the midseason departure of sophomore guard Billy Edelin due to personal reasons, they are the rudder that steers the Orangemen.

"Keeping [McNamara] under control is definitely my main focus," said Maryland sophomore guard Chris McCray. "If he gets 43, my team is probably going to lose."

"Once [McNamara] gives up the ball, you've got to make him work to get it back," added freshman guard D.J. Strawberry, who also expects to spend some time checking him.

Williams worries about overplaying McNamara and giving Warrick too much room to operate. He worries about how the Terps, who have sharpened their spacing, screening, cutting and passing and are shooting better as a result, will react to a zone that will test their patience.

"The thing about Warrick is he can post up and score there or he can go outside and create his own shot. He can put the ball on the floor. A lot of 6-8 guys can't do that," said Williams, who is 3-9 against Syracuse, but has never coached against the Orangemen at Maryland.

The Terps are 5-0 against Syracuse, and have not played them in 24 years.

"The zone is set up to force you to go outside to shoot," Williams added. "They make you take shots that you think are good shots until you take them and you're covered. We have to keep getting the ball inside."

The Terps appear to be hitting Syracuse at an ideal time. They think they can force the Orangemen into making someone else step up with a huge game, someone like junior guard Josh Pace. They appear to have much more depth than the Orangemen.

Maryland also is looking increasingly relaxed, as Gilchrist continues his stretch run and as it keeps extracting big plays from a variety of sources, including reserves such as freshman guard Mike Jones and freshman forward Ekene Ibekwe.

"I think everybody is relaxed now, especially the first-year players, since [UTEP] was their first tournament game," senior center Jamar Smith said. "They had a bunch of jitters before, but that's out."

Maryland's mission is simple. Take out the defending national champion, keep its undefeated March going and move on to Phoenix.

"Maryland's depth is something of a huge concern. There's not one or two guys you can stop and you feel good about yourselves," Boeheim said. "The level they've played at over the last three weeks has been at times higher than any team in the country."

Terps today

NCAA tournament second round: Maryland (20-11) vs. Syracuse (22-7) in Phoenix Regional

Site: Pepsi Center, Denver

Time: 5:40 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/ WBAL (1090 AM)

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