Skinny on Terps' hopes: slim and none

0-4 finish probably dooms UM

Packer: `You have to win games'

March 12, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - He was given the opportunity to defend his team's NCAA tournament candidacy, to talk about those two victories over Duke and about playing one of the nation's toughest schedules.

But less than 30 minutes after Maryland's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title defense ended with an 84-72 loss to Clemson on Thursday afternoon at MCI Center, coach Gary Williams did none of that. Instead, he seemed resigned to the Terrapins' fate.

"Whatever we are, we are," Williams said when asked about his team's tournament bid chances. "You earn your way on the court. Whatever happens, that's fine."

His players had just suffered through their fourth straight loss - when a win in any one of those games would have made the Terps a near lock for their 12th consecutive tournament berth - but were far more upbeat that Maryland's name would be called during the selection show tomorrow night.

Junior guard Chris McCray liked his team's chances on the basis of the two wins over Duke. Junior forward Nik Caner-Medley was more concerned about Maryland's potential NCAA seeding than whether the Terps would make it, though he acknowledged he isn't even sure how the selection process works.

"I've never had to think about it since I've been here," Caner-Medley said. "I'm sure we'll listen to what people think and hear all that stuff about our RPI [Rating Percentage Index], and good wins and bad losses."

The Terps probably won't like hearing what many analysts have to say. The general feeling is that Maryland (16-12) played its way out of the 65-team NCAA tournament by losing to Clemson for the third time this season.

"If the committee thinks that the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East are so strong that anybody that had a degree of success in there deserves to be in, then they'll be in," college basketball analyst Billy Packer said of the Terps. "Other than that, I don't see them having a prayer. ...

"You have to win games. Everybody gets hung up in all this RPI and all this statistics stuff. If you just watch them play, they were not a good team going down the stretch."

Several factors are working against the Terps, none more important - or incriminating in Maryland's case - than their record in the past 10 games. Maryland was 3-7 in that span and hasn't won since Feb. 19. And that was a 92-89 double-overtime victory over last-place Virginia, a win that is hardly going to wow the tournament committee.

In the past couple of weeks, Maryland's RPI, the formula used for seeding and selecting the tournament field, has dropped nearly 30 spots to an uncomfortable 52. The Terps are just 2-7 on opponents' home courts, and their record against teams in the 51-100 RPI range is 3-7. The tournament committee will consider all those factors.

"I think losing four in a row is certainly a major red flag for the committee," said ESPN analyst Dick Vitale. "I don't think Maryland and Notre Dame are both completely knocked out yet. So much depends on what happens ... with these other conferences [this weekend], but they are hanging there [between] the 64 or 67 category. If they had beaten Clemson, they'd be in."

The Terps recognized after Thursday's loss that their fate is in somebody else's hands, and not just the selection committee's. If it has any chance to make the tournament, Maryland needs teams like Utah (Mountain West) and Pacific (Big West) to win their conference tournaments. Both are NCAA locks, and if they don't get the automatic bids from winning their league tournaments, they will take away at-large bids available for teams like Maryland.

Nevada's upset loss to Boise State in the Western Athletic Conference tournament late Thursday night hurt Maryland - Nevada should get an at-large bid, giving the WAC two teams. But other scenarios have gone the Terps' way, with several other bubble teams having faltered.

West Virginia didn't do the Terps any favors by beating Boston College and likely clinching an at-large bid at around the same time Clemson was polishing off the Terps on Thursday. But Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Indiana were eliminated early in their conference tournaments.

Virginia Tech and Miami also were bounced in the ACC tournament's first round, meaning that if the committee decided to take six ACC teams, the Terps probably would be the sixth.

In 1998, Florida State got in with a 6-10 conference record because of the strength of the league, as six ACC teams were chosen.

Williams said Thursday that if Maryland was not invited to the NCAAs for the first time since 1993, it would accept a bid to the National Invitation Tournament. That starts Monday, and Maryland could be facing an early-round game with Georgetown because the tournament traditionally scripts regional matchups.

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