Making it to Big Easy isn't so hard for Terps in South

March 17, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

BRACKETVILLE - Good morning, Terrapins fans, on Holy Bracket Monday.

Blessed be the NCAA tournament selection committee.

So what do you think of the boys' chances of getting back to basketball's promised land now?

Can anyone say "Mardi Gras," baby?

We sure hope the Terps listened to the fightin' words senior shooter Drew Nicholas dished out after the Terps dropped a jaw, their drawers and the ACC tournament.

Nicholas was right to do a Mad Michael Jordan rip job on his lackluster teammates after Friday's inexplicable loss to North Carolina. Nicholas challenged them to get in gear so that the next time the Terps take the floor, it won't be the last time for scrappy seniors like him and Steve Blake.

Wow. Now the call to arms might have real meaning.

This past weekend, dispirited Terps fans were learning how to make plans for the next time Gary Williams' boys get bounced fast from a postseason tourney.

Q: How many yards got raked across Maryland this weekend once the Terps were booted out of Greensboro?

A: Lots.

It's all changed now, thanks to the ever-so-generous selection committee. The fellas in that Indianapolis hotel room did something nice for the defending national champs. They gave the gift that just might keep on giving for the Terps, all the way past April Fools' Day.

It's now permissible to ask yourself the most important question: Does Southwest fly to New Orleans, site of this year's Final Four?

Improbable? Maybe. But hold on.

We know it's highly improper for March Madness participants to think too far ahead.

We know all about that golden oldie "One Game at a Time" credo.

But since the entire point of visiting Bracketville this time of year is for fools like us to project winners in completely hypothetical matchups, you must go ahead and ask yourself, based on the evidence presented to us by the selection committee and a tournament field with so much parity, you'd think Paul Tagliabue was running college hoops:

Is it not completely within the realm of possibility that the No. 6-seeded Terps will beat UNC-Wilmington in that first-round game?

Where will you be at tip-off time Friday?

These are the Seahawks after all. This is not any of those other Carolina teams that the Terps struggled against late this season.

And isn't it completely possible that Xavier (winners over Troy State, we assume) is a one-man band, thanks to Atlantic 10 Player of the Year David West, and that the Terps can be reasonably counted upon to shut down West and Co.?

Yes.

So here we stand. We are projecting the Terps to be Round 2 winners and rolling.

Which leads to the other possibilities:

By the time the third round rolls around, "Fear the Turtle" T-shirts will be the official uniform of residents across the great state of Maryland.

By the time you've figured out who's winning the office pool, citizens from Bowie to Aberdeen will be doing Dickie V. impressions, uttering the phrase:

Terps-Gators rematch, baby!

And we all know Billy Donovan was lucky to get out of College Park earlier this season with that close win and that Florida's brief flirtation with No. 1 in the polls was mostly a big, fat, shimmering mirage.

You can see where this is all heading.

Despite ending its ACC season on a demoralizing losing streak, Maryland now finds itself buried in the middle of what has to be the sweetest of sweetheart regions, the South.

Honestly, the land mines are everywhere else but in the South this March.

In the West, Arizona, Duke, Illinois and Kansas have to beat each other - or Gonzaga, always capable of a surprise. (What is the deal with the Zags drawing Cincinnati in that dreadfully tough 8-9 matchup? You can hear Gonzaga coach Mark Few crying foul once again, though the Zags should win in Salt Lake.)

In the East, all eyes (at least from Baltimore to Boston to upstate New York) will be on Syracuse and freshman standout Carmelo Anthony. The Baltimore kid has the Orangemen looking like a Final Four candidate, if Syracuse can bust through a brutal region that also sports Wake Forest, Oklahoma, Louisville and Eddie Sutton's Oklahoma State.

In the Midwest, Kentucky and Pittsburgh should roll, but those two make a tough regional final, with Tubby Smith invincible and the Panthers coming off their Big East tournament win.

That brings us back to the South, the pattycake brigade. Gary Williams' lungs and sweat glands should have a distinct advantage in this region - if Williams can coax more performances out of the Terps like the one they used to defeat No. 1 (at the time) Duke in January. It was a terrific win scored by a total team effort, particularly with Tahj Holden and Ryan Randle energized to do what had to be done inside.

Land mines in the South? Can't see too many. No. 5 seed UConn might find a lot of BYU fans are a problem in Spokane. San Diego is capable of downing No. 4 Stanford, since West Coast Conference teams love to beat the Pac-10.

As for the big guns? Not only is Florida (three straight losses to end its season) the coldest No. 2 seed in the tournament, the South Region's No. 1 seed, Texas, has done little in tournament history to validate its top-dog status.

So here goes. Bourbon Street or bust. A Final Four pick of Maryland, Louisville, Duke, Kentucky.

And if that's wrong? Vermont, Wagner, Troy State, Penn.

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