- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 12, 2006

The wait just might be the hardest part for the Maryland basketball team.

That’s saying something after a topsy-turvy season for the Terrapins (19-12), who sit squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble after a lackluster 80-66 loss to Boston College in the ACC quarterfinals late Friday night at Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum.

By the time of tonight’s announcement of the 65-team field, Maryland will have had nearly 48 hours to ponder the ramifications of both that loss and other setbacks in the course of the season. It no doubt will be hoping the positives in its resume will stand out to the selection committee, which has the task of selecting 34 at-large teams.

A decent finish — three wins in the final four games — could help the Terps, as could a strength of schedule ranked 12th in the country according to collegerpi.com. Maryland has a bubble-worthy RPI of 47 — 10 spots better than last year — and managed to split its final 10 games.

In addition, no ACC team that finished at least .500 in league play and won a game in the ACC tournament has missed the NCAA field since the field expanded to 48 in 1980.

“I’m very confident,” senior forward Nik Caner-Medley said. “It comes down to the way we finish off the season and getting to 19 wins, and I think we’ve proven we’re one of the best 34 teams for at-large bids. I think we really have. The most I know is they say they pick the best teams. They look at who you played, and they look at your schedule. I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position.”

While the Terps’ entire body of work will be evaluated, they couldn’t have produced a more lethargic effort against the Eagles. Boston College rushed to a 19-2 lead, and Maryland never trimmed the deficit to less than 14.

Caner-Medley sprained his right ankle less than five minutes into the second half and didn’t return as the Terps played out the game in front of a lot more empty seats than fans. Coach Gary Williams tossed aside his jacket early in the first half out of frustration, and his frantic pleas in the second half could be heard throughout the coliseum.

“I’m proud of the team,” Williams said. “In coaching, you have to be careful not to let one game influence how you think about the year. We’ve battled some things this year we haven’t had to battle in the past at Maryland. We came through it pretty tough. You get to where we’re 9-9 in the 18 league games and have the 11th-toughest schedule in the country. We’ve done some good things this year.”

But perhaps not enough. The Terps won only twice on the road against Division I teams (plus neutral court victories over Arkansas and Georgia Tech), and their early season defeats of Arkansas and Boston College never were followed up with more top-50 victories.

It was a potentially ignominious end to a season that began with optimism for the Terps’ experience and the determination to avoid a repeat of last season’s trip to the NIT. The season began to unravel when senior guard Chris McCray was declared academically ineligible Jan. 23 when Maryland was 13-4.

The Terps went 6-8 without McCray, the team’s leading scorer when he was suspended.

Maryland also dealt with the mid-January arrest of forward Travis Garrison on misdemeanor assault charges. Garrison was suspended one game and has started only once — March 1 in the Terps’ final home game — since then.

Even with all of those woes, the Terps arrived in Greensboro with legitimate postseason hopes. An impressive rout of Georgia Tech in Thursday’s first round featured sweet shooting and strong defense and fueled optimism the season could be salvaged.

That still might be possible. A cadre of teams — Air Force, Colorado, Florida State, George Mason, Michigan, Seton Hall — inhabiting the amazingly soft tournament bubble all absorbed brutal losses in the last week, while only Syracuse and Texas A&M; likely played their way into the field.

“We worked pretty hard the past couple weeks to get to this position in the second round of the ACC tournament,” junior guard Mike Jones said. “If it was up to me, I would say yes. We fought really hard. But since it’s not my decision, we’re going to sit back and sit and see where we’re at.”

One team that could squeeze hope away from the Terps is South Carolina, which would gobble up a spot if it defeats Florida in today’s SEC final.

If those scenarios don’t unfold, Maryland will maintain some optimism going into the early evening announcement. An exhausted Williams didn’t defiantly rattle off the reasons the Terps should make the tournament in yesterday’s early morning hours, instead listing his team’s accomplishments while acknowledging he will not stray from the television during the selection announcement.

“We worked hard. I know I worked hard, and the players worked hard this year,” Williams said. “We had to overcome some things. I hope that’s good enough. It’s a very difficult situation this year with the way things are. We’re going to be like everybody else. We’ll just wait and see what happens on Sunday. That’s all we can do.”

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