The Washington Times - February 10, 2009, 12:07PM

When I made it back to the press room on Jan. 24 at Duke, I had an e-mail waiting for me from a Georgetown grad of my acquaintance.

The subject line said it all: “The Terps are awesome.”

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Of course, he did not mean the Terps were awesome. Not in the slightest, not after a 41-point loss.

But then Georgetown lost to Seton Hall. And Cincinnati. And Marquette. And Cincinnati again. Oh, there was a home defeat of Rutgers in there, but that isn’t a huge accomplishment.

So guess what? Georgetown might be even more awesome than Maryland at this point.

Which is to say the Hoyas are anything but awesome. Not one bit, especially since the Hoyas were a preseason top-25 team and prognosticators expected doom and gloom for the Terps.

Neither was entirely accurate.

So with Maryland scrapping its way through the schedule to a 15-8 mark, and Hoya Paranoia freefalling to 13-9 and a decent chance to play on Tuesday – Tuesday! – at the Big East tournament, it’s time to consider something that almost never happens around here.

That is, an NCAA tournament without a local presence.

It’s been since 1978 when the D.C. area didn’t have an area team in the tourney. Maryland and/or Georgetown usually take care of providing a participant. When neither made the field in 1993 and 2005, George Washington was there to fill the void.

There are plenty of good teams around here. But good teams aren’t locks for the NCAA tournament, especially in one-bid leagues.

It’s fair to define the area as a school within 30 miles of D.C. – American, George Mason, George Washington, Georgetown, Howard, Maryland and Navy. Here’s a look at the NCAA chances of each nearly five weeks before Selection Sunday:

AMERICAN (15-7): The current Patriot League co-leader has as good a chance as any local to make it back to the postseason. The Eagles have the backcourt (Garrison Carr and Derrick Mercer) to win three games in March to collect an automatic berth for the second straight year. One thing that is a minor concern is a loss at Holy Cross in the teams’ first meeting; the Feb. 21 showdown at Bender Arena could decide homecourt for the PL tournament.

GEORGE MASON (16-7): The defending CAA champs have dropped four of six, with all the losses coming to teams that have a credible chance to at least reach the conference title game next month. John Vaughan only missed two games with a concussion last month, so it’s tough to pin any of the problems on his absence. The Patriots could certainly make a run in Richmond next month, but there’s plenty of other teams (VCU, Northeastern, Old Dominion) capable of doing the same.

GEORGE WASHINGTON (7-13): At this stage, making the tournament is the goal. Alas, that’s the Atlantic 10 tournament. The Colonials snapped an 11-game losing streak last weekend, and those heady days of top-10 rankings seem much further in the past they they really are. At this stage, GW is probably the longest shot of anyone in the area to make a tournament push.

GEORGETOWN (13-9): The Hoyas have some things going for them, notably victories over Connecticut, Memphis and Syracuse, as well as a No. 1 strength of schedule. But victories in the two months prior to Selection Sunday are required, and Georgetown is flailing right now. The Hoyas don’t have horrible losses, just way too many of them. A turnaround is possible, but the margin of error is shrinking by the game.

HOWARD (7-16): This year’s Coppin State, perhaps? The Bison endured a brutal stretch and arrived home at 1-14 in the middle of last month. But they’ve won six of eight to climb right back into the middle of the MEAC. Howard has yet to win on the road this season, but other than Morgan State there isn’t an obvious team in the league that is undeniably better than the Bison. If Howard can poach a win or two in an upcoming swing to Winston-Salem State and South Carolina State, chances are good the Bison will at least finish in the top half of the league.

MARYLAND (15-8): The Terps’ greatest enemy is the schedule; meetings with Clemson, Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest still loom. But that can work the other way if Maryland happens to win one of those. Maryland’s magic number is still probably 21 wins, but it’s plausible to see how 20 victories would provide enough of a resume – assuming there’s a gem in there and bad losses are absent. The Terps can’t go losing tossups like Saturday’s visit from Virginia Tech, but they still have a chance if they create their own breaks. That’s no sure thing, though.

NAVY (16-7): The Mids could beat anyone in the Patriot League, having toppled Holy Cross and fallen to American in part because a defender fell down in the final minute. They can also lose to anyone, as they did against second-division teams Army and Lafayette. A healthy Romeo Garcia would help immensely, though Navy’s done fairly well without him. All that said, it’s tough to see Navy catching both American and Holy Cross in the regular season, and that probably means the Mids will need to win two road games to collect a conference tournament title. It’s not impossible, but at this stage American is the better local bet to win the PL.

Patrick Stevens