Reasons for snub escape Williams

Ncaa Tournament

March 13, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

COLLEGE PARK — College Park-- --Good luck to Gary Williams getting his Maryland players pumped up to play in the NIT this weekend. Can such glum, sour, heartbroken expressions be wiped off 11 faces by then?

Actually, add Williams' face to the challenge.

As he expressed his displeasure last night with being left out of the NCAA tournament field of 65, he looked more disgusted than he did after any of the Terps' losses this season, or any other season. He didn't look much better an hour and a half later, when he said that he was going to decline the National Invitation Tournament invitation and voluntarily end the school's streak of 12 postseason appearances.

And 10 minutes after that, when he returned from a phone call and said, essentially, "Never mind" - well, he wasn't turning the world on with his smile.

This will clearly be near the top of Williams' all-time list of disappointments at Maryland. Shifting gears and getting back on the NIT bandwagon won't erase the feeling. Nor will it cool the heat of his anger when he first talked about the snub by the NCAA. Even as he talked about respecting the wishes of old coaching allies C.M. Newton and Dean Smith on the NIT selection committee, the annoyance he felt toward the selection committee that had just left his team out of the NCAAs kept leaking out.

"I just want to see some logic to it. There's no logic," he said, gesturing with both hands, pantomiming parallel lines that, to him, the NCAA people don't appear to grasp when putting this year's bracket together.

Call it sour grapes if you like - and that surely would have been what everyone called it, if not something worse. What it really would have been was open revolt. And he and the program would have been ready to fight.

Even if they've passed on using the NIT as a battlefield, the battle isn't over. Williams plans to talk about it at the conference meetings in May. "All I want to know is what we need to do, schedule-wise, whatever, and then get to work on it," he said. "That's what my job is going to be coming up very soon."

Never did he deny that the Terps failed more than once to get that one win, or that one close loss, to get in. He acknowledged how much it hurt to lose Chris McCray when and how they did. The Terps know they did a lot to seal their own doom.

But, they noticed last night, so did a lot of other teams whose names went up on the brackets. Air Force. Seton Hall. Alabama. Arizona. Marquette. Texas A&M. George Mason. Problem teams, problem players, problem schedules, underachievement, letdown, disappointment, blown chances at seemingly the wrong time - they all had that in common with Maryland at various times this season, including the end.

They all got in. Maryland didn't. Say the Terps didn't deserve it if you like, as long as you can make a case for those that did get in that blows Maryland's away.

Logic, Williams kept pleading. It wasn't easy to find. No clear mandate about how much conference tournament play counts. No sure measure of a missing player's impact. No obvious reward for playing a strong schedule and losing, or for playing a weak schedule and winning. Not even a tilt toward or away from the pesky, publicity-hungry mid-majors.

The fate of leagues that expanded? The Big East puffed up, so did the ACC, and the former got double the bids as the latter.

"That was kind of the expansion sale," Williams said after the NCAA field came out and before the switcheroo on the NIT. "The sale they made to the basketball coaches was, `You'll get more teams in the tournament.' "

He paused for sarcastic effect, and added, "Which was not necessarily true."

Last year's exclusion was easy to understand: those four straight losses at the end of their season. Actually, that team looked as if it could have lived without the NIT, if only to speed up the divorce from John Gilchrist. This one was harder to grasp. The blowout loss to Boston College in Greensboro on Friday might have done them in for good - or maybe not. Maybe they were dead in the water even before the late regular-season run.

"When they came down to it, they didn't even have us on the screen as one of the bubble teams," senior Nik Caner-Medley said. "There might not have even been a point in watching it."

Caner-Medley also has to live with his legacy, and that of the famous and infamous senior class, being determined in part by the whims of those men in that Indianapolis hotel room yesterday.

With so much at stake for players, coaches and programs, some accountability is needed. Maybe some will come soon. Maybe the news that the Terps were all set to stay home will produce some clarity.

Otherwise, we're left with what Williams said he told the players: "Things aren't always completely fair. You look at things as I do and say, `Why do these things happen?' "

david.steele@baltsun.com

Read David Steele's blog at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog

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