March sadness: No men's teams from Md. playing

For the first time in nearly 20 years, no postseason for state schools

March 17, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

For 17 years, Brian Kelly and a large group of friends have gathered in a sports bar on the eve of the NCAA Tournament.

The location tends to vary, but this year, they hunkered down at The Green Turtle in Towson for their annual ritual of drinking beer and divvying up the tournament field. Kelly — dressed in his favorite black and red Maryland Terps hat — runs the show a bit like a carnival barker. Each member of the group, 10 people strong this year, takes turns drawing five slips of paper from a hat, and if the eventual champion happens to be written on your slip of paper, you're the big winner of that year's pool.

It's typically one of Kelly's favorite days of the year, but there is a hint of a gray cloud hanging over the proceedings this week. For the first time since 1993, the Maryland Terrapins season was already finished when they sat down for the draw. The Terps weren't even invited to the National Invitation Tournament, the postseason consolation prize for those schools who miss out on going to the NCAA Tournament.

"There is a lot of animosity here," Kelly said. "We're huge Terps fans. We live and die with them. It's frustrating. Maryland not playing definitely puts a damper on things. It hurts."

Kelly and his friends aren't the only fans feeling glum this week. Not a single men's Division I program from the state of Maryland qualified for the postseason, something that has not happened since 1992. Although the University of Maryland has been the standard-bearer for the majority of that run — making 11 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 1994 to 2005, and playing in either the NIT or NCAA Tournament each year after that — the Terps aren't the only schools to taste success during that stretch.

Navy has qualified for the NCAA Tournament five times (1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000), Coppin State three times (1993, 1997 and 2008), Mount St. Mary's three times (1995, 1996, 2000), Morgan State twice (2009 and 2010), UMBC once (2008) and Loyola once (1994). This year, everyone — including the Towson Tigers, who haven't been to the postseason since 1991 — will be watching those games on television.

"It's a little strange and a little surreal," said Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos, a former assistant at the University of Maryland. "It's almost like it's never happened before. Hopefully one of us will get back next year. I really do root for at least one of the teams to make it every year, because it's good for all of us. I'm a team guy. I want someone from this area to go. Because we all know one another and play one another. I don't think there is any larger meaning to it. It's just a weird thing. I hope it's just a fluke."

It's unlikely the dearth of postseason teams from Maryland will affect turnout Thursday when fans gather to watch games in restaurants and bars. April Bittner, a bartender who works at The Green Turtle in Fells Point, said typically the first day of the NCAA Tournament draws a huge crowd of people playing hooky from work, and the fact that Thursday is also St. Patrick's Day will mean bars will be packed.

"We typically do about 30 percent better than the month before the first day of the NCAA Tournament regardless of who is playing," Bittner said. "Whether people are filling out their brackets, or just keeping up with games, they don't want to do that at home. I don't think it will make any difference that Maryland isn't playing. People come from all over the place to support their teams. I think people are a little fed up with Maryland right now anyway."

Bittner's feelings about the Terps have been echoed on sports talk radio a lot lately. Radio host Ken Weinman, who talks about college basketball nightly on his show on 105.7 The Fan, said he gets a flurry of calls from people who a really disappointed about the current state of college basketball in Maryland, specifically the Terps. The fact that Gary Williams and his program have missed March Madness four of the last seven years is infuriating.

"I agree with what (former CBS color commentator) Billy Packer said last week, that Maryland should be a Top 25 program every year," Weinman said. "I think people are actually starting to get pretty pissed about it. They're really disappointed. I love the tournament anyway, and I'm going to be glued to every game. But it definitely makes it more special when Maryland is in it."

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