Seeds odd, but Terps did the planting

March 10, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

COLLEGE PARK -- Princeton isn't ranked. Valparaiso isn't ranked. Boston University isn't ranked. And those are the other No. 12 seeds in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

None of the No. 11s is ranked, none of the No. 10s, only one of the No. 9s. But the College of Charleston, Maryland's first-round opponent, is ranked 17th -- five places ahead of the Terps.

Has there ever been a higher-ranked team at a lower seed?

Not since the expansion of the tournament to 64 teams in 1985.

Has there ever been a 5-12 game like this?

The tournament committee will address that question as soon as it finishes justifying Georgia as a No. 3 seed.

Not that Maryland is in any position to complain.

It blew its chance to secure a No. 4 seed by losing to North Carolina State in the ACC tournament semifinals. And quite frankly, its draw could have been even worse.

Charleston is 28-2, and its 22-game winning streak is the longest in the country. But at least the Cougars play up-tempo, as opposed to Princeton, which would have confused Maryland to no end.

Arizona, the Terps' possible second-round opponent, also plays wide-open. Thus, Maryland will be in its element. Whether that translates to another first-round knockout or a Sweet 16 appearance is anyone's guess.

On the bright side, the Terps only have to travel to Memphis, and not out West for the third straight year. They're also more familiar with Charleston than they were with Santa Clara last season.

That should help, though it's difficult to predict how this team will respond. One day after N.C. State knocked off No. 7 Duke, Maryland took the Wolfpack too lightly.

It was no secret then, and it's no secret now -- the Terps needed that game. If they don't like their seeding or matchup, they have only themselves to blame.

"I think we would have been a four if we would have won," coach Gary Williams said at Cole Field House after the pairings were announced last night. "Does it matter? I don't know. When you're one seed apart, it's hard to say."

Perhaps, but simple logic dictates that Maryland would have faced a lesser opponent as a No. 4. Pacific, Long Island, South Alabama and Miami (Ohio) are the No. 13 seeds. None is 28-2.

South Alabama, coached by Bill Musselman, plays slow and physical. LIU has Richie Parker and the nation's leading scorer, Charles Jones. Miami (Ohio) might give Clemson trouble.

But can any of those teams claim the fewest losses in Division I over the past four seasons? Can any of them boast of a victory over Stanford in the Great Alaska Shootout?

Charleston can.

The No. 4 seeds are St. Joseph's, Villanova, Arizona and Clemson -- that's right, Clemson, the team Maryland beat by 15 points in the first round of the ACC tournament.

The Terps have lost eight of their last 12, but the Tigers have looked just as ragged down the stretch, dropping eight of their last 13.

Williams, though, found no fault with Clemson's seed.

"We beat them in the tournament, but they beat us twice in the regular season," he said. "I can see picking them four and us five, if I could step back and wasn't working here."

Whatever, his only choice now is to prepare for Charleston, a team that starts four seniors, including 6-foot-8 center Thaddeous Delaney, the team's leading scorer, a k a "The Shaq of the TAAC."

Bone up, bracket breath -- that's the Trans America Athletic Conference, home to Samford, Campbell and assorted other patsies. Florida Atlantic and Florida International are members. Next up: Florida Vacation.

Seriously, the Cougars might be 100-16 the past four seasons, but they're only 1-4 against the ACC the past eight. They beat Georgia Tech by 17 points in January 1993, and lost to Wake Forest by 10 in the 1994 NCAAs.

That was their only other NCAA appearance -- they've gone to the NIT the past two seasons, beating Tennessee last year, then losing to Rhode Island in overtime.

This year was the first time they were eligible for the TAAC's automatic bid, and they secured it by winning their three conference tournament games by an average of 19 points.

Four of their starters average double figures in scoring. Two of them -- guards Anthony Johnson and Jermel President -- shoot 42 percent from three-point range.

Mostly, though, this is a team that knows how to win. As the Terps' Laron Profit said, "You can say what you want about who they play, and the conference they play in. When you win 22 in a row, you've got to be doing something right."

So, will Maryland survive?

Only if it gets better play out of Profit, Terrell Stokes and Sarunas Jasikevicius, who were a combined 0-for-5 with eight turnovers in the first half against N.C. State.

Without question, this is a difficult game, one that the Terps can easily lose. But they put themselves in this position. To make their season truly rewarding, they have to pull themselves out.

Pub Date: 3/10/97

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