Terps headed in wrong direction as postseason approaches

Another ACC loss has Maryland looking more like an NIT — rather than NCAA — team

February 16, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

Adrian Bowie makes playing in the NIT sound as appealing as food poisoning.

"We don't want to be there again," said Maryland's senior guard, who played in the also-ran fest as a freshman. "It was horrible."

I know, I know ... don't you hate how he sugar-coats it?

But the way this season's going, Bowie and his teammates may be headed back to the unique postseason hell that is the NIT, the tournament that makes pulse rates slow whenever it's mentioned.

Maryland's 91-83 loss to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Tuesday didn't help its chances of going to the NCAA's Big Dance, that's for sure.

A 16-10 overall record and a 5-6 mark in the weakened ACC isn't dazzling anyone on the NCAA tournament selection committee.

Sure, the Terps aren't out of it yet. They've got five regular-season games left, including three at Comcast Center against North Carolina State (Sunday), Florida State and Virginia.

A good run there, including knocking off 19th-ranked North Carolina on the road, may get them in.

Two or three wins in the ACC tournament before the inevitable stomping by Duke would help, too.

But right now, Maryland finds itself stuck in its own demoralizing version of "Groundhog Day."

Tell me if you've seen this before: the Terps play high-energy at both ends of the floor and match the other team basket-for-basket until they kick it away at the end.

"That's been the story of the year for us — can't get over the hump," said Jordan Williams, the talented sophomore center.

It was definitely the story against the Hokies, as the Terps clawed their way back from another shaky start only to falter and blow makeable shots in crunch time.

As usual, Gary Williams looked like he had just stepped out of a sauna when this one was over.

The Terps coach rightly lauded his team for another great effort.

"That won't let me sleep tonight because we still lost," he added.

And he didn't try to spin it as anything more than what it was: another blown opportunity to show Maryland belongs when March Madness rolls around and the 68 best teams in the country go at it.

What's killed the Terps all season long is the lack of consistent scoring from the outside.

They don't have a zone-busting 3-point shooter to loosen things in the paint and give Jordan Williams some breathing room.

And they don't have a go-to guy like Greivis Vasquez who can drive the ball to the hole and score or get fouled when the game is on the line.

Terrell Stoglin, the freshman point guard who shows enormous promise, finished with a career-high 25 points against Virginia Tech. But most of his points came off the Terps' running game.

"I was able to get in transition and just push the ball," Stoglin said. "I love playing that style."

Which is all well and good except for one thing: the Terps can't play that style all the time. Especially not against big teams like Duke and North Carolina, which have front lines the size of sequoias and control the boards and make it difficult to run.

And when the Terps are forced into a half-court offense, oh, can they look ugly.

Too often they keep trying to pound the ball inside to Williams, who usually has two defenders draped all over him.

Williams finished with 16 points and nine rebounds against the Hokies. But I lost count of how many times he got the ball on the side of the lane, only to have to kick it back out when he was double-teamed.

That's why you have to love the big guy's demeanor. Sure, he gets frustrated when he doesn't get the ball down low. Sometimes he looks like he wants to strangle someone.

But he doesn't pout. He doesn't take it out on his teammates. And he doesn't stop pounding the boards for offensive rebounds and put-backs.

So that's what you're seeing right now, Terps fans.

You're seeing a team that plays hard game after game. You're seeing a team that gets after it on defense, like any other team coached by Gary Williams.

But you're also seeing a team that's, um, offensively challenged — to say the least. And one that's running out of time to post some big wins and get to the Big Dance.

Adrian Bowie's worst nightmare — the snooze-fest that is the NIT — is looming.

If that doesn't motivate the Terps, nothing will.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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