COLLEGE PARK - -It was around this time last season that Maryland stunned Michigan State - an important early-season victory that was to later aid the Terps' case for advancing to the NCAA tournament.
Those sorts of opportunities - big-time, nonconference games - don't come along too often.
But the Terps (5-2) have just that sort of game tonight at Verizon Center against undefeated and third-ranked Villanova (7-0) in the BB&T Classic.
Villanova has three guards - Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes - averaging double-figure scoring. Although no player averages more than Reynolds' 13.9 points, seven Wildcats have scored in double figures this season.
"They have outstanding guards," Maryland coach Gary Williams said Saturday. "In Fisher and Reynolds and Stokes, they have three guys that got to the Final Four last year."
The Wildcats are difficult to defend, Williams said, because of their versatility. He said they have "outstanding perimeter shooting, but they have the ability to drive the basketball really well."
Maryland has switched between zone and man-to-man defenses this season. Williams and most of his players prefer man-to-man because it allows them to be particularly aggressive. But the coach said "you have to be open" to playing zone when opponents have the ability to consistently get into the paint.
Maryland's defense is allowing opponents 59.1 points per game and a .361 field-goal percentage. Both figures represent improvements from last season, when the Terps held opponents to 69.1 and .422. But Maryland has yet to play a team this season of Villanova's caliber.
Besides the three guards, the Wildcats rely on junior forward Antonio Pena (13.4 points per game, 10.6 rebounds). Villanova coach Jay Wright has said Pena is an important player because he gives the team inside-outside balance.
This will be Maryland's last game without power forward Dino Gregory (Mount St. Joseph), suspended before the season for a team rules violation. Gregory is due to return against Eastern Kentucky on Saturday.
Williams said before the season that he anticipated the 6-foot-7 Gregory, a strong inside defender and rebounder, would be a starter. His absence has meant more playing time for Jordan Williams and James Padgett, the two freshman power forwards.
"Not having him [Gregory] the first eight games has changed the way we play," the coach said. He said Gregory's size and experience help not only Maryland's half-court defense, but also its press.
Last season, Maryland beat Michigan State, which later advanced to the national title game, on a neutral court in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The Terps play tonight at Washington's Verizon Center, which is close enough to campus to provide Maryland a home-court atmosphere. The Terps are 14-9 in the BB&T Classic.
Navy faces George Washington in today's opening game.
MARYLAND VS. NO. 3 VILLANOVA
Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM
Line: Villanova by 3 1/2