NCAA memories, dreams loom large for Terps

March 03, 2009|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK - Dino Gregory has long been captivated by the NCAA tournament. As a kid, he would fill out his brackets and revel in the spectacle of the upsets and his heroes' exploits.

The allure of the tournament - and the hope he would one day be part of it - helped lead the sophomore forward to College Park. The former Mount St. Joseph's star is among a number of Terrapins who were influenced by watching Juan Dixon, Steve Blake and others win big NCAA postseason games in 2001 and 2002 and now hope to make the tournament themselves.

"When Maryland won [the 2002 national championship], I was 12 or 13 and Juan Dixon was really big," Gregory, 19, said. "That's why I wanted to go to Maryland. Going to Maryland, I thought, the NCAA tournament was an automatic thing. Going through last year, I see you have to work to get there."

Gregory's experience illustrates how valuable a recruiting tool the tournament can be.

It's another reason Maryland (18-10, 7-7 Atlantic Coast Conference), which hosts No. 10 Wake Forest tonight, is fixated on not missing out for the fourth time in five seasons. Maryland's athletic administrators know there are other Dino Gregorys out there who adore the tournament and believe Maryland might be the vehicle to get them there.

"That's why we come here - to get to the NCAA tournament," said junior forward Landon Milbourne, who was a freshman when the Terps beat Davidson and lost to Butler in the 2007 tournament.

Milbourne didn't play in those games and is eager for another chance.

Gregory, too, wants to be included. He remembers getting hooked on the tournament in 2000.

"I watched Michigan State play Florida in the national championship," Gregory said. "I think I was 10 or 11, and I was really excited. I remember the little point guard that [Michigan State] had. He was really good."

Mateen Cleaves, a senior point guard, was Michigan State's leader. The Spartans captured the national title by beating Florida, 89-76.

Maryland advanced to the Final Four the next season, and Gregory was especially enthusiastic because when "you live in the area, it's bigger here than it is somewhere else."

The Terps will certainly need to win at least one more regular-season game - after Wake Forest, they travel to Virginia on Saturday - to be seriously included in the NCAA tournament discussion. They might also need to win a game or two in the ACC tournament.

"Each time you win, the next game becomes bigger," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.

Notes:: The Terps had one day to prepare for Wake Forest after flying back to town after Sunday night's victory over North Carolina State. "It's a quick turnaround, but other teams have had to do it this year," Williams said. Forward Dave Neal, the team's only senior, will be honored tonight before playing his last game at Comcast Center.

TONIGHT'S GAME

What to watch for

Wake Forest has victories this season against North Carolina, Clemson, Boston College and Duke. The Demon Deacons, winners of four of their past five games, will test Maryland's scrappy defense. The Deacons lead the ACC in field-goal percentage (.498) and are second in scoring average (82.1).

Key matchups

James Johnson and Al-Farouq Aminu vs. Maryland's small front line. Both are among the conference leaders in rebounding.

What it means

Maryland needs to win one of its next two to finish at .500 in ACC play and be in the mix for an NCAA tournament berth.

NO. 10 WAKE FOREST (22-5, 9-5) @ MARYLAND (18-10, 7-7) Tonight, 9 TV: Comcast SportsNet-Plus Radio: 1300 AM, 105.7 FM Line: Wake by 2

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