It's hardly a surprise to those close to Maryland's basketball program that the Terps, with but four regular-season games left, are in last place in the Atlantic Coast Conference (3-10, 10-13 overall).
Maryland, which will entertain UNC-Greensboro tonight at 8, is in ninth place in the conference. Clemson and N.C. State are tied for seventh at 4-8.
In their preseason poll, the ACC writers picked Maryland to finish seventh. Gary Williams, the Terps' intense third-year coach, did not accept that at the time -- though he wouldn't offer a counter-prediction of his own.
"The media picked us seventh," Williams said on the eve of his opener with Mount St. Mary's.
"And you think you'll finish higher than that?" he was asked.
"We were picked last my first two years," Gary said, "and we didn't finish there."
The Terps are there now, though. With conference opponents North Carolina, Wake Forest and Virginia left, it looks as if Maryland will be involved in the play-in game between the eighth- and ninth-place finishers to enter the ACC tournament in Charlotte, March 12.
Tonight's game should provide Maryland with exactly what it needs for the conference stretch run -- a win.
The real surprise of Maryland's season is not that the team is a tail-ender in the conference. This is a team with one great player, Walt Williams, supported by a mediocre cast. The surprise is that this bunch has won 10 games and came within two points of No. 1-ranked Duke.
* Dr. Bill Howard, colorful director of Union Memorial's Sports Medicine Clinic, is often confused with one of his Harford County neighbors -- Orioles coach Cal Ripken Sr. Confirms WJZ-TV sportscaster Chris Ely: "There's a very strong resemblance."
* Eric Frees, the record-setting running back at Western Maryland, tried out in Tampa recently for the spring pro football league. He didn't catch on there, but the Toronto Argonauts are going to take a look at him. Says WMC coach Dale Sprague: "All Eric wants is a shot. One shot. Whoever gives him that may be pleasantly surprised."
* Scott Vogel, of Shepherd Electric, called to set the record straight about his company's baseball tickets for Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The people at Shepherd, who have had their tickets since 1954, were among the first to complain publicly about their new seat locations. Since their objections through letters and phone calls to the club, Scott says, the Orioles' Lou Michaelson has worked with them and adjusted their seats. "Now," Vogel says, "they're just about where they were in the old stadium."
* The disclosure that major-league baseball players are being paid more than $1 million a year has elicited an interesting question from longtime Baltimore sports fan George Franke:
"Why is it that these ballclubs can contribute no money to their new ballparks [the Orioles didn't put a dime in OPACY], yet they can pay their players $1 million a year and they charge exorbitant prices for tickets and concessions? Major-league players would play for half what they make now, if they had to. Then the clubs could give the public a break."
* The Gait twins, Gary and Paul, the world's two most spectacular lacrosse players, indoors or out, will be here Saturday night to play for Detroit against the Baltimore Thunder at the Arena. Don't worry about being shut out by a sellout. Says Thunder general manager Darrell Russell:
"We've never sold out. We played Detroit and the Gaits here last year for the Major Indoor Lacrosse League championship and we didn't sell out. This Saturday we should have a crowd in the 10,000's."
* No matter what the sport, no matter what the level, the athlete who comes through near the end of a championship game has to be admired for his heart. St. Paul's basketball player Simms Jenkins is such an athlete.
In St. Paul's 58-56 win over Gilman in the finals of the 12-team Independent Schools basketball tournament last weekend, the 6-foot-2 senior converted seven of eight free throws and scored 13 points in the fourth period. With 1,200 excited fans looking on, it was a gutsy performance for a 17-year-old. No wonder Jenkins won the tournament's Outstanding Player Award and is The Baltimore Sun's Athlete of the Week.