Terps will gather around TV but expect to see a sad repeat

March 12, 2006|By HEATHER DINICH | HEATHER DINICH,SUN REPORTER

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Around 6 p.m. today, the Maryland men's basketball team will gather together in front of the big screen TV in the team lounge at Comcast Center and watch as CBS reveals the NCAA tournament bracket, ending more than a month's worth of speculation.

Many, though, believe the Terps (19-12) ended the guessing game by halftime of Friday night's game against Boston College, in which an abysmal performance led to an 80-66 loss and a second-round exit from the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

"I don't think they're going to make it," ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said yesterday. "I think they're going to fall short."

With only two wins against teams ranked among the top 50 in the NCAA's Rating Percentage Index, only two conference road wins, and a losing record without former guard Chris McCray, odds are the Terps will have to switch channels to hear their name called.

The 40-team field for the National Invitation Tournament, which was purchased by the NCAA this summer and for the first time will be selected by an at-large committee, will be released simultaneously on ESPNews, ESPNU, NIT.org and NCAAsports.com at 9 p.m.

The opening round of the NIT is Tuesday through Friday, with the championship game March 30 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Last year, the Terps advanced to the semifinal round there before losing, 75-67, to champion South Carolina. It was the team's first appearance there in 15 seasons, and the one place it wanted to avoid returning this spring.

"We've gone through things the last two years after doing great things for 11 years and doing great things this decade," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "We just got into a situation where things didn't go right the last two years. You can look at some positives, if you'd like to, like strength of schedule."

According to last week's RPI report, Maryland's strength of schedule ranked as the 12th toughest in the country, second only to Duke in the ACC. Seven of Maryland's 12 losses have come against top-11 teams. Nine of 12 losses were against teams in the top 35 RPI. Maryland was the only team in the conference to play Duke and North Carolina twice each this season.

The Terps' two best wins came with McCray, though, who was averaging 15.2 points before he was declared academically ineligible at the start of the spring semester. Maryland defeated Boston College, 73-71 at Comcast Center, and Arkansas, which is currently ranked 45th in the RPI report.

Although many believed a win Friday night over No. 3-seeded Boston College would give the Terps the kind of quality win they needed to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee, Jerry Palm said the team never had a chance.

"They've been out for a while," said Palm, a bracketology guru who developed the site www.collegerpi.com. "To me, they were never close to in. Their numbers don't mean anything because the only numbers that really matter with them are 3-7 without McCray against teams not named Georgia Tech. And then to get embarrassed like they did ... they just got whipped. They probably were [out of the NCAA tournament] by halftime."

Maryland senior forward Nik Caner-Medley disagreed.

"I'm very confident," Caner-Medley said of being selected to the NCAA tournament. "It comes down to the way we finished out the season, the way we got to the 19 wins. I think we've proven that we're one of the best 34 at-large teams out there."

D.J. Strawberry wasn't as certain immediately after the team's loss to the Eagles on Friday night, in which they made just seven field goals in the first half.

"I'm not sure where we stand," he said, "but I know this team has battled through a lot. We've worked hard and put ourselves in a great position to be in consideration for the NCAA tournament. Hopefully, we get in."

Williams has argued that historically an 8-8 record in the ACC has been good enough to get teams in - and it has. Bilas said this year, the conference wasn't good enough to make that argument.

"It really depends on who the eight wins were against," Bilas said. "In those eight wins, you have to prove you can beat some really good teams. The last top 50 win they had was against Boston College. The league kind of let them down. It used to be you could rely on beating teams like Virginia and Wake Forest."

Still, Bilas said back-to-back appearances in the NIT aren't "the end of the world" for the program.

"If they hadn't lost Chris, they probably would've wound up making it," he said. "It's not that big of a deal. I don't think it's a crisis."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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