- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 24, 2001

In another season, perhaps Maryland would have given a team like Delaware State only a cursory once-over in its preparation. But early returns in the 2001-02 college basketball season have the Terrapins on their guard.

Several Top 25 teams have suffered upsets in the last two weeks, a run that has commanded the No. 6 Terps' attention and affects how they will approach today's game against the Hornets.

Like most coaches, Gary Williams preaches how his team needs to be ready for every game against lower-echelon, nonconference foes. Players respond with the trite "one game at a time" phrase, but if the Terps who play host to No. 2 Illinois on Tuesday didn't have Williams' attention before, they do now.

In the last week, No. 4 Kansas and No. 3 UCLA were upset by Ball State, and preseason No. 19 North Carolina lost to Davidson five days after falling to Hampton, both at home. And No. 10 St. Joseph's was upset by Eastern Washington.

"I never even heard of Davidson until the other day," Terps center Lonny Baxter said.

Within the first month of every college basketball season at least a couple of ranked teams stumble. There are also unranked teams, such as Arizona this season, that earn rankings quickly. Williams believes the season's first rankings should come out several weeks into the season to allow media and coaches time to make educated assessments.

Instead, some polls are released in late October, and teams ranked early and maybe unprepared for the challenge they receive from perceived lesser schools sometimes can't live up to the billing.

"I know what it is. People just underestimate these teams," Baxter said. "These are the teams that don't get any publicity, they don't have anything to lose, they see [ranked teams] don't really want to play us, so we're going to go hard at them."

Said Drew Nicholas: "It's a combination of things: There's so much talent being spread out, and nowadays there's so much hype going around about how good teams are going to be, and sometimes teams feed into it. We're not trying to be one of those teams."

Williams said he likes that many of the Maryland players watch a lot of college basketball, so they know what has happened to their ranked counterparts.

"I've coached players that don't watch a lot of games. These guys watch a lot of games," Williams said.

The Hornets, a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (as is Hampton), return their top four scorers from last season's 13-15 team that finished third in the MEAC. Delaware State has defeated Hartford and Maine for its first 2-0 start in three seasons. Williams was impressed by the Hornets and said they "have to be decent" if they won at Maine.

Just getting small-conference teams to play before a large home crowd isn't carrying as much weight witness North Carolina's two defeats and then-No. 4 Kentucky's loss to Western Kentucky, now ranked No. 21, at Rupp Arena on Nov. 15.

"It's one thing to lose 4,000 miles away; it's another to lose on your court that really hurts," Williams said. "Most of the time, if you are not fired up as you get into the game, that pride thing about playing at home comes into play at least you hope it does.

"If you let another team hang around, by halftime they're still there and they have confidence. You're in for a long night. That's why you want [your team] ready to play right away."

Notes In Williams' first game as Maryland's coach, the Terps defeated Delaware State 87-53 on Nov. 25, 1989. Yesterday Williams said he didn't remember what school he beat for his first victory. … The Terps lost to Coppin State later that season but since have won 78 straight nonconference home games, the NCAA's longest current streak.


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