- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

Boise, Idaho, has become an intriguing venue for local college basketball fans this week.
Maryland is the third seed in the NCAA tournament's West Region and will open against 14th seed George Mason there Thursday. In addition to that Beltway battle, Georgetown, which returns to the tournament after a three-season absence, is also in Boise. The 10th-seeded Hoyas play No. 7 Arkansas. The Terps and Hoyas would meet in the Sweet 16 if both teams advance that far.
A fourth local team, Virginia, is the fifth seed in the South Region and will play 12th-seeded Gonzaga on Friday in Memphis, Tenn.
The real season for the Maryland basketball team begins now. It is the curse of running a successful program, but a team is measured by how deep it goes into the tournament and whether it threatens to make the Final Four.
While the Hoyas will likely consider this season a positive one with an NCAA bid, the Terps know an early exit will make their season a disappointment.
Coach Gary Williams has heard the criticism of his Terps' failure to get past the Sweet 16. The coach is leading Maryland into its eighth consecutive NCAA tournament and has taken it to four Sweet 16s. But tournament disappointments like last season's 35-point loss to UCLA in the second round are what many remember about the program.
"If we get past the Sweet 16, we'll hear talk about how we haven't reached the Final Four," Williams said. "We got to four Sweet 16s. I think that's a great accomplishment. Obviously not to some people."
An interesting matchup also could be in the second round. If Maryland wins, it will face the winner of sixth-seeded Wisconsin and No. 11 Georgia State, which is coached by former Terps coach Lefty Driesell.
"Obviously that's not a coincidence," Williams said of the local plot lines placed in Idaho by the NCAA selection committee.
The Terps, ranked 11th, have their most talented team in Williams' 12 seasons in College Park. Maryland was a fashionable preseason pick to reach the Final Four, and it is a hot pick again, playing its best basketball of the season after a midseason plummet that threatened its chances of even making the postseason tournament. The Terps had won six straight, including five over ranked opponents, before losing 84-82 to third-ranked Duke in an ACC tournament semifinal Saturday.
"It's a perfect time to be going into the tournament," said Terps power forward Terence Morris, a senior who feels the Terps kept up their momentum by playing well against the Blue Devils. "This is the hottest team I have been on going into this time."
The Terps (21-10) are heavy favorites over the Patriots (17-11) and are bigger, deeper and more talented than the Fairfax school. George Mason has nothing to lose; its season already has been considered a success by winning the CAA tournament and reaching the NCAAs.
One compelling matchup will be at center, where Maryland's Lonny Baxter will face George Mason's George Evans, the 30-year old Army veteran who has been a dominant big man in the CAA with his 6-foot-7 frame. Evans outplayed Baxter last season when the Patriots nearly shocked the Terps at Cole Field House. Maryland needed a rally in the final minutes to pull out a 69-66 win.
But that's about the only position where George Mason stands a chance. The Terps will look to exploit Patriots point guard Tremaine Evans, who's only 5-8. It's unlikely George Mason, which won the CAA title 35-33 over UNC Wilmington, can slow the high-powered Terps.
Meanwhile, Georgetown took a beating from the selection committee, which saddled the team with the 10th seed despite its 23-7 record. According to committee chairman Mike Tranghese, the Hoyas were hurt by a weak nonconference schedule and a ghastly 58-40 loss to unranked Seton Hall in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.
"When we started 16-0 we were in a position where we could have controlled our own destiny and [the selection committee] wouldn't have been able to do this to us," Georgetown coach Craig Esherick said of the team's surprisingly low seed. "But there's nothing we can do about that now, so I'm just going to concern myself with preparing for Arkansas."
Georgetown also met Arkansas in the 1994 NCAA tournament. En route to a national title that year, the Razorbacks dropped the Hoyas 85-73 in the second round.
"This Arkansas team is quite a bit different from that one," Esherick said of the seventh-seeded Razorbacks (20-10). "I think we're going to be quite a lot bigger than they are this time around, and we need to exploit that. I also expect [coach Nolan Richardson] to play the same constant fullcourt pressing brand of defense he always does, so we're going to have to practice our pressure offense over the next few days."
The focus of that pressure offense is junior guard Kevin Braswell, Georgetown's unquestioned spiritual leader. Braswell, who was held scoreless for the first time all season in the embarrassing loss to Seton Hall, views the NCAA's seeding slight as an opportunity.
"It doesn't surprise me. All season people have doubted us," Braswell said. "But if we get in there and do some damage, then they'll have to recognize us."
On the opposite spectrum is George Mason.
It was a festive occasion as 400 people joined the team in the student union to watch the selection show on a large projection screen.
Fans and players anticipated being placed in the East bracket, traditionally where the Colonial Athletic Association representative has gone. When "Maryland" and "George Mason" appeared on the screen simultaneously, the room erupted. Players smiled, raised their arms and slapped each others' hands, while coach Jim Larranaga grinned broadly as he shook each player's hand.
"We know their personnel," said Larranaga, who is taking the Patriots to the NCAA for the second time in three seasons. "I think it's great locally because our fans also follow the Maryland Terrapins. They're on TV all the time, so that's exciting."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide