The prize: 4th seed in West

Maryland will open in Denver against 13th seed Texas-El Paso

College Basketball

March 15, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

GREENSBORO, N.C. - First, the Maryland Terrapins enjoyed a satisfying flight home last night, taking some time to contemplate their amazing accomplishment. Then, a short time later, the NCAA tournament selection committee delivered Maryland's reward.

After pulling themselves off the tournament bubble last week, then making a slam-dunk case for inclusion in the big tournament by earning an automatic bid with their first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title in 20 years, the fast-rising Terps are headed West again.

Maryland, which entered the ACC tournament in position for a possible No. 8 seed, has earned the No. 4 seed in the Phoenix Regional and will open its 11th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance against 13th-seeded Texas-El Paso in Denver on Thursday.

If Maryland beats UTEP, it could find itself facing Syracuse, which first plays Brigham Young, setting up a second-round match between the last two NCAA champions.

"Last week, people were saying that we weren't getting into the tournament," said the Terps' Travis Garrison. "Now we're getting a fourth seed. That's incredible. I can't even explain it."

This marks the fifth time the Terps have been shipped to the West regional during their current tournament streak.

"Now we're into our third season. I'm really happy with being a fourth seed. I'm proud of these guys, and it means a lot to me. You have to let it sink in. It happened so fast," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, describing the euphoria enveloping his team after its 95-87, overtime victory over top-seeded Duke in the ACC tournament title game yesterday.

"You don't have time to think about what you've just done," he added. "We were going after all of those teams [Wake Forest, N.C. State, Duke] down there [in the league tournament]. All of a sudden, our position changes. UTEP is coming after us."

Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby, chairman of the NCAA selection committee, said: "I don't think there's any question that on a national scale, there's great recognition of the program ... at Maryland and the work they've done throughout the season, sometimes with great success and sometimes without success.

"I'm not sure there's anybody playing better basketball right now than Maryland in the entire country."

Twelve days ago, the Terps seemed to be running on fumes and definitely were running out of room.

The youngest team in the ACC had lost eight of 12 games, had gone seven weeks without beating an opponent ranked in the Top 25 and appeared on the verge of collapsing under the weight of the school's proud men's basketball tradition.

Then came an astonishing recovery. First, the Terps recorded two absolute must-wins over North Carolina State and Virginia to end the regular season with a 7-9 record in ACC play, good for sixth place.

Then, the unbelievable became reality. On three successive days, Maryland knocked off No. 15 Wake Forest, No. 17 North Carolina State and fifth-ranked Duke.

After becoming the first Maryland team to win the ACC tournament trophy since Lefty Driesell coached the Terps to the crown in 1984, the Terps now must come down from an emotional high and prepare to hit the big tournament with renewed focus on a short turnaround.

"I do worry about that," Williams said. "That's where the coaches have to do a good job and make the players understand the situation. It's one day here, then we leave [for Denver] on Tuesday.

"It's not the most ideal situation. Hopefully, we've built this resolve, that when it's time to play, we're ready to play."

Sun staff writers Don Markus and Christian Ewell contributed to this article.

By the numbers

Bids by conference

6: Atlantic Coast, Big East, Conference USA, Southeastern.

4: Atlantic 10, Big 12.

3: Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-10

2: Western Athletic, Missouri Valley.

1: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial Athletic, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic Athletic, Mid-American, Mid-Continent, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern Athletic, Sun Belt, West Coast.

Top 16 seeds by conference

Conf. ...Bids...

ACC 5

Atlantic 10 1

Big 12 3

Conf. USA 1

Big East 2

Pac-10 1

SEC 2

West Coast 1

Highest RPI left out of tournament

School...RPI

LSU 38

Oklahoma 50

Utah State 43

Missouri 51

Georgia 48

Virginia 52

Notre Dame 49

Fla. State 53

Lowest RPI to make tournament

School...RPI

Fla. A&M 262

Liberty 165

Ala. State 230

Valparaiso 139

Texas-S.A. 200

E. Wash. 127

Lehigh 194

Princeton 121

20 and out

These teams won 20 or more games and were left out of the tournament (record is against Division I teams only):

School...Record

Utah State 24-3

Troy State 23-5

Boston University 23-5

George Mason 21-9

Kent 21-8 Belmont

20-8 Creighton

20-8 Mississippi Valley State 21-6

Niagara 21-9

Rice 21-10

Toledo 20-10

Wichita State 20-10

Most appearances

School...No.

Kentucky 46 Indiana 32

UCLA 38 Louisville 31

N. Carolina 36 Syracuse 29

Kansas 33 Duke 28

Most consecutive appearances (all time)

27: North Carolina, 1975-2001

20: Arizona, 1985-2004

18: Indiana, 1986-2003

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