Terps' date with Hokies has NCAA tournament implications

Maryland needs win against Virginia Tech to build postseason resume

February 14, 2011|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — — Adrian Bowie winced as if he'd just eaten a sour grape.

It was late January, and Maryland's senior guard was talking about missing the NCAA tournament in his freshman year and playing in the NIT instead. "We don't want to be there again," Bowie said. "It was horrible."

If Bowie and fellow seniors Dino Gregory and Cliff Tucker need any more motivation in the final six regular-season games, they only need to recall how it felt missing the party in 2007-08, when the Terps went to the NIT. Maryland made the NCAA tournament the next two seasons.

As the season winds down, the Terps (16-9, 5-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), who play an important road game at Virginia Tech (16-7, 6-4 ACC) Tuesday night, are running out of time to distinguish themselves and secure an NCAA bid.

Maryland — 0-8 against teams in the RPI top 50 — needs a late-season run and a strong showing in the ACC tournament to edge into the NCAA picture. The Terps have played most top teams close, but are 2-7 in games decided by single digits. Maryland has looked in stretches — for example, in the Villanova game and the first Duke contest — like a tournament team, but their record doesn't bear that out.

"You have to focus on what you can do. And what we can do is go down and get a win," Maryland coach Gary Williams said Monday. Asked if his team was capable of a run, the coach replied: "Sure. We definitely have that in [us]."

Some pundits have predicted the ACC could get as few as three teams into the NCAA tournament. Williams and others in the conference dispute that, saying a handful of teams will be selected.

"I don't agree with the three teams," said Andy Enfield, an assistant coach at Florida State (18-7, 8-3 ACC), which plays Maryland here on Feb. 23. "I agree with Coach Williams. I think the ACC will get five teams in this year. You're talking about the league that has produced the last two national champions (Duke and North Carolina), and both of those are very good again. The talent level from the middle to the top half on any given night can beat anybody in the country."

To improve its stature, Maryland will need to perform well against its toughest remaining opponents. That includes the Hokies, Florida State (whose leading scorer, Chris Singelton, is out following foot surgery) and — above all — No. 19 North Carolina. Maryland travels to Chapel Hill on Feb. 27.

The cluster of teams in the middle of the ACC pack — one game separates seventh-place Maryland from fourth-place Virginia Tech — means the ACC tournament will probably loom large for the Terps and others. The tournament begins March 10 in Greensboro, N.C.

"This year's ACC tournament will be more important to more teams than it has been the last few years," said Enfield, who graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1991 after scoring more than 2,000 points. "There will be four, five, maybe six teams on the tournament bubble. Some teams will feel like they can play their way in [to the NCAA tournament]. Teams on the right side of the bubble won't want to lose their first game."

Virginia Tech beat the Terps, 74-57, on Jan. 20 — a game that Williams says was one of his team's worst efforts of the season. Leading scorer Jordan Williams was held to 11 points.

"You have to make sure you cut him off the glass because he's a great wedge rebounder," Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said in a conference call Monday. "He's a very good passer on the double teams. We tried to cut off passing angles so it was a little harder for them to put the ball into the post."

Jordan Williams has scored nine and 12 points, respectively, in his last two games. His season average is 17.1

Gary Williams said the player is adjusting to being the focus of opposing defenses.

"That's the next step. He's a sophomore, all this is new," the coach said. "There's nothing wrong. It's just that this is another step."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

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