The Washington Times - February 17, 2009, 12:25PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. —- The closing stretch begins today for Maryland.

And tonight has a chance to make things really interesting for the Terrapins.


A win opens things up for Maryland, which has done a good job of doing about what was expected at every turn. Really, take away the Michigan State win and the Morgan State loss, and the results (if not the scores or the manner in which they were achieved) really aren’t all that stunning.

The final six games always looked daunting. And there’s no doubting that it’s an ideal time for the Terps to pull a surprise or two.

A victory tonight lends crucial road success to Maryland’s cause, because it comes close to erasing one of the reasons the Terps’ resume probably isn’t NCAA tournament-worthy right now. Let’s look at some of those:

* RPI of 60. Hardly an end-all, but it is on the low side of things for consideration.

* Strength of schedule of 49. This probably helps Maryland, and it’s going to improve in the next three weeks regardless of how the Terps fare.

* Nonconference strength of schedule of 136. Not horrific. Not great. You’d better believe Maryland is rooting for the likes of Morgan State, Michigan and Vermont —- and maybe, deep down, for Georgetown to do a little better as well.

* 3-6 record away from Comcast Center. A defeat of Clemson gives Maryland an unoffensive record. If the Terps happen to sweep the last three road games (N.C. State and Virginia in addition to tonight), it might actually be a positive.

* 2-6 vs. the top 50; 6-7 vs. the top 100. Again, Terps are probably rooting for Virginia Tech (51) and Michigan (53) to help make the first number look better. But Clemson would be a money victory for Maryland.

* 6-6 in last 12. If Maryland is still viable on March 15, it will have a winning record in its last dozen games. Trust me on this. Tonight’s an opportunity to ensure another good result in the relatively recent past, and a victory ensures at least four wins in the last 12 games, regardless of how far Maryland goes in the ACC tournament.

Time to hit the road. A drive of more than two hours awaits.

—- Patrick Stevens