In order to dance, Terps must survive date with Clemson

In need of at least one more win, UM faces Tigers in ACC tourney

March 07, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Terrapins now know that to salvage their basketball season, they'll have to beat the team that put them in this predicament.

With Virginia's 68-63 loss at Florida State yesterday, idle Clemson secured the ninth seed and a matchup with eighth-seeded Maryland on Thursday at noon in the opening game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at MCI Center.

The Tigers (15-14, 5-11 in league), led by senior center Sharrod Ford, beat the Terps (16-11, 7-9) twice this season: 88-73 in South Carolina on Feb. 1, and 97-93 less than two weeks ago at Comcast Center. The latter loss started the Terps' three-game skid to end the regular season.

A win in either of those games would have made them a near lock for their 12th straight NCAA tournament trip. Now, the Terps seemingly need to win at least one ACC tournament game - and possibly two - to get a bid. And getting a second win would means that the Terps must knock off nationally No. 2-ranked North Carolina, which clinched the league's top seed and regular-season title by beating Duke yesterday, in the quarterfinals.

"We have to play hard in the ACC tournament," junior point guard John Gilchrist said after the Terps' 86-76 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday. "That's what this means to me. ... We're going to have some home-court advantage, but at the same time, there's more pressure on us to perform. It's a catch-22, really."

What exactly the Terps have to do this week to assure themselves an NCAA bid is open to debate. Several analysts, including ESPN's Jay Bilas and Joe Lunardi, projected Maryland to be in the 65-team field even after Saturday's loss. But a third setback in the same season to the Tigers, who are fighting merely to snare a National Invitation Tournament bid, and a first-round exit could be disastrous.

Terps coach Gary Williams declined Saturday to campaign for a bid through the media. He did present the pros and cons of his team's NCAA tournament candidacy and said the Terps will go into the league tournament with the idea that, if they can get a couple of wins, they'll be in good shape.

"It all depends how the [selection] committee feels," Williams said. "We didn't win some games we should have. We had some great wins. We'll see."

Six of the past eight ACC teams to finish league play at 7-9 have not garnered NCAA invitations. After the loss to the Hokies, Maryland's Rating Percentage Index, the formula used to seed and select tournament teams, fell to 46, after being 22nd a couple of weeks ago. No team with an RPI 33 or better has been left out of the tournament.

The Terps are 4-6 in their past 10 games and 2-7 in games on the opponent's home court - two factors the committee considers. But Maryland's strength of schedule also is ranked in the top 10 in the country and the Terps have two wins over top 10 teams. In fact, any talk about the Terps' postseason fate usually ends with mention that they did beat Duke - twice.

Maryland players aren't interested in engaging in tournament speculation. Freshman James Gist, who had his best game of the season against Virginia Tech, admitted he doesn't even know how the selection process works. The way the Terps see it, they need to make a good run in the ACC tournament.

Last season, Maryland entered the league tournament with a 7-9 record and likely needing one win to cement an NCAA berth. They wound up with three wins and Williams' first ACC championship. This year, the Terps must win four games in as many days to duplicate that feat.

"We definitely still have a chance," said junior forward Nik Caner-Medley. "We were in the same position last year and we made it. We have the mentality that we are going to go in there and win it again. That's how you have to be."

Next for Maryland

Matchup: Maryland (16-11, 7-9) vs. Clemson (15-14, 5-11) in Atlantic Coast Conference tournament first round

Site: MCI Center, Washington

When: Thursday, noon

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

ACC standings

Conference Overall

Team W L Pct. W L Pct.

North Carolina 14 2 .875 26 3 .897

Wake Forest 13 3 .813 26 4 .867

Duke 11 5 .788 22 5 .815

Virginia Tech 8 8 .500 15 12 .556

Georgia Tech 8 8 .500 17 10 .630

Miami 7 9 .438 16 11 .593

N.C. State 7 9 .438 17 12 .586

Maryland 7 9 .438 16 11 .593

Clemson 5 11 .313 15 14 .517

Florida State 4 12 .250 12 18 .400

Virginia 4 12 .250 13 14 .481

Yesterday's results

Florida State 68, Virginia 63 North Carolina 75, Duke 73 Wake Forest 55, N.C. State 53 (End of regular season)

Saturday's results

Virginia Tech 86, Maryland 76 Georgia Tech 64, Clemson 56

Conference tournaments

Men

America East

At Vestal, N.Y. Yesterday's semifinals Vermont 76, Binghamton 65 Northeastern 86, Maine 73 Saturday's championship Northeastern at Vermont, 11:30 a.m.

Big East

At New York Wednesday's first round West Virginia vs. Providence, 2 p.m. Georgetown vs. Seton Hall, 7 p.m. Notre Dame vs. Rutgers, 9:30 p.m.

Central Intercollegiate Athletic

At Raleigh, N.C. Saturday's championship Virginia Union 82, Fayetteville St. 71

Colonial Athletic

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