Terps looking for momentum as ACC tournament nears

With his team short on credentials, Williams says he's 'pretty realistic' about chances of getting NCAA berth

March 01, 2011|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — This is the time of year when college basketball fans attempt to forecast the teams in the NCAA tournament brackets as if filling in words in a crossword puzzle.

Predicting and seeding the 68-team field may be an entertaining pastime for fans — and a lucrative one for pundits — but it's not a practice Maryland coach Gary Williams says he's engaging in with his Terps team.

What would be the point? Williams and his players know as well as anybody that Maryland — which plays its final regular-season road game against Miami on Wednesday night — is a long shot to advance to the NCAA tournament for the third straight season.

"If I thought it would help our team, it would come up," the coach said Tuesday. "But it doesn't help our team."

Maryland (18-11, 7-7 Atlantic Coast Conference), which ends the regular season at home against Virginia on Saturday, might need to win the ACC tournament to secure a trip to the NCAAs. Winning three games in the ACC tourney and advancing to the finals could earn them consideration — depending on whom they beat to get there.

"Maryland's not even on my radar," Jerry Palm, owner of the CollegeRPI.com website, said Tuesday. "I can't imagine them getting in short of winning the entire ACC tournament."

The Terps have several issues with their credentials. One is that they didn't pick up a signature win in their nonconference schedule, losing a series of close games to ranked teams in November, December and January.

"I think we're a much better team now just in terms of the way of we run our offense," Williams said. "Some of those games we lost early could be directly attributed to our free-throw shooting."

The foul shooting has improved lately. Maryland is 79-for-97 (81.4 percent) in its past four games. Freshman guard Terrell Stoglin is 29-for-31 from the line in that period.

The Terps are also hurt by not having defeated a ranked ACC team. Their seven league wins don't carry as much weight as they might have because the conference isn't as strong as in years past.

"It's not like the ACC in a normal year," Palm said. "The conference tournament is too little, too late for them.'

No. 4 Duke and No. 13 North Carolina are top ACC entries to the NCAA field, probably followed by Florida State. Palm lists Virginia Tech, Clemson and Boston College as possible invitees.

The ACC tournament begins March 10. Maryland was tied with Boston College for sixth in the standings before the Eagles' contest Tuesday night at Virginia Tech. The sixth-place team will open against the 11th seed, which is currently Georgia Tech. The winner would play the third seed — currently Florida State.

Maryland enters Wednesday's game against Miami (17-12, 5-9 ACC) not thinking about its single-digit losses to Duke, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Temple and Illinois — all nationally ranked this season at one time. The Terps also lost to Duke a second time by 18 points and to North Carolina by 11.

As for the future? Well, the Terps aren't thinking much about that either.

"I'm pretty realistic," Williams said when asked about Maryland's NCAA tournament prospects. "You watch and you see what's out there, and you're pretty realistic about your team. What we have to do is win our next game."

Williams said Maryland had gained some momentum after home wins over North Carolina State and Florida State. Its chance to win three in a row ended in an 87-76 loss at North Carolina on Sunday night.

"We just caught a really good team playing well." Williams said. "Here we go again. We have another chance [beginning Wednesday night] to regain momentum."

Notes: Miami is led by junior guard Malcolm Grant (15.1 points per game) and backcourt mate Durand Scott (13.2). The Hurricanes are second in the ACC — Duke is first — in 3-point accuracy at 38.1 percent. "They start four 3-point shooters in their starting lineup," Williams said. "Both their guards, Scott and Grant, are difficult covers."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

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