Jan. 7, 2005
With phase two of the college basketball season under way -- conference play -- there is excitement galore. These games have more meaning and more intensity while offering some great matchups.
Just look at this weekend. On Saturday, Maryland hooks up with North Carolina at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill (ESPN, noon ET). Then it becomes "Hall of Fame Saturday" -- Mike Krzyzewski vs. John Chaney in Duke-Temple and Eddie Sutton vs. the General, Robert Montgomery Knight, in Oklahoma State-Texas Tech.
I'm excited about calling the Tar Heels and Terps. The opposing coaches, Roy Williams and Gary Williams, will be locks for the Hall of Fame. When their careers end, they will be enshrined in that beautiful Hall in Springfield, Mass., the ideal setting for basketball fans to enjoy the memorabilia and history of this great sport.
Carolina-Maryland will be a classic ACC battle. North Carolina (12-1, 1-0 ACC) comes in ranked No. 4 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. Maryland (9-2, 1-0 ACC) is No. 21.
The Tar Heels have won 12 straight since a stunning opening-game loss at Santa Clara. Point guard Raymond Felton was out of the lineup, which shows the importance of point-guard play.
But look at the overall picture: Carolina has wins over Kentucky, Iowa in Maui and at Indiana (still a difficult place to play). The win over the Wildcats is still the lone loss suffered by coach Tubby Smith's team this season.
North Carolina has been humiliating opponents, recording seven straight double-figure wins. OK, the last two were William and Mary (105-66) and Cleveland State (107-64). But the victory over Kentucky (91-78) started the streak.
To have a chance against the Tar Heels, the Terps must stop the transition game. I talked to Gary Williams, and he said his team must get back defensively. It's difficult to send key people to the offensive boards since you have to get four people back to defend against the fast break.
Maryland will try to stop the outlet pass, but that's also difficult to do. Felton is as quick as any guard in America in controlling the basketball foul line to foul line. Stopping the ball is a must, thus making North Carolina play five on five in the half court.
The Tar Heels have a force in the middle named Sean May. He struggled against Indiana when he was so focused on his return to Bloomington, where he played his high school ball.
Since the Indiana game, May has played as well as any center in America. Among post players nationwide, he's right there with Arizona's Channing Frye, Gonzaga's Ronny Turiaf, and Duke's Shelden Williams. To me, May is on the midseason All-America first team.
In fact, if you had to pick the top 10 players in America, based on preconference performance, three UNC juniors would have to be on the list: May, Felton and guard Rashad McCants.
And senior forward Jawad Williams would be a superstar on just about any other team. He's a great blender because of the other three. Gary Williams is concerned about facing Williams, who shoots 66 percent from the field.
Maryland has a bunch of gutty, hard-nosed kids. Point guard John Gilchrist has been playing well, and Maryland has been on track with a five-game winning streak. The Terps lost a tough one at Wisconsin and fell to a hot George Washington club.
Guard Chris McCray is underrated. Travis Garrison and Nik Caner-Medley are capable of coming through up front, but the Terps need more balance in the post. Over the years Maryland has featured big men like Joe Smith, Lonny Baxter and Jamar Smith, guys who give them a post presence inside.
I can't wait to call the game with my buddy, play-by-play man Brad Nessler. It's the first time we've worked together in three years, since he's been doing NBA games and is coming off college football, where he called the national-championship game.
Felton vs. Gilchrist. Williams vs. Williams on the sidelines. Wow, it should be something special in Chapel Hill, baby!
Dick Vitale coached the University of Detroit and the Pistons before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.