No looking back: Terps' attention on NCAA tournament

After early exit from ACC tourney, Maryland hopes for high seed

March 14, 2010|By Jeff Barker and Don Markus

GREENSBORO, N.C. — - A year ago, North Carolina was nearly upset in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Then the Tar Heels were upended in the semifinals.

To say North Carolina managed to recover would be an understatement. Three weeks later, the Tar Heels were national champions.

There's a lesson there for Maryland, Florida State and Virginia Tech, which, like the Tar Heels in 2009, didn't live up to their advance billing in this season's ACC tournament despite first-round byes. Early exits - the second-seeded Terps fell, 69-64, to Georgia Tech in Friday's quarterfinals - might have seemed demoralizing at the time, but they don't have to be crippling in the long term.

That's because conference tournaments - while all about pride and tradition - have become increasingly dwarfed by the NCAA tournament.

When 19th-ranked Maryland learns its NCAA tournament destination and seeding tonight, it's a good bet that the team's attention will be squarely focused on what lies ahead of it, not what transpired at Greensboro Coliseum.

Jerry Palm, owner of the Web site, had forecast the Terps as a No. 4 seed before the ACC tournament. Now, he sees them as a No. 4 or No. 5. ESPN's Joe Lunardi projects Maryland as a No. 6 seed

"I don't think [the Georgia Tech loss] has anything to do with breaking our confidence or anything," senior guard Eric Hayes said. "We played well enough in the second half that we finally got back to how we were playing the past eight games. It doesn't affect us."

Maryland was far from the only nationally ranked team to be ousted quickly in a conference tournament. Syracuse, Villanova and Pittsburgh all lost early in the Big East tournament.

After Maryland's loss, ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez almost immediately starting thinking - and talking - about the NCAA tournament. The Terps advanced to last season's second round, and Vasquez has often spoken excitedly this year about surpassing that achievement in his senior season.

"Next week in the NCAA tournament, I'm going to do whatever it takes to win games," said Vasquez, who missed 15 of 21 shots against Georgia Tech and had six turnovers. "I'm going to put everything out there."

Most ACC teams speak of advancing deep into the NCAA tournament as the ultimate goal.

"The NCAA [tournament] is so big and so important on a national scale," said Andy Enfield, an assistant coach at Florida State (22-9), which has the same number of ACC regular-season wins (20) as Maryland the past two years. Only Duke with 24 has more. The Seminoles are projected as an eighth or ninth seed.

"When you realize you're probably not going to win the league, then your whole focus is to improve your seeding in the NCAA tournament and to be off the bubble," Enfield said. He said the ACC tournament "to our kids is very important," but that the NCAA tournament is the bigger prize.

Maryland center Jordan Williams, who got into early foul trouble against Georgia Tech, said: "The main thing for us is to bounce back from this. We're going to be watching on Selection Sunday. Whatever seed we are, we're just happy to be in the tournament and where we go from there."

The team was expected to gather at Comcast Center to watch the selection show.

"I might be wrong, I'm not perfect, [but] this [loss] is going to help us become a better team," Vasquez said. "Maybe we needed this, and this might help us to get to the Final Four. Who knows?"

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