- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

The Maryland basketball team won 19 games, including three of its last four, and played a schedule rated among the top dozen in the country.

But it wasn’t enough to get the Terrapins back into the NCAA tournament.

Maryland (19-12) received the No.1 seed in the NIT’s East Region and will meet the winner of tomorrow’s Manhattan-Fairleigh Dickinson game at Comcast Center on Saturday.

The Terps didn’t leave much of a final impression, falling 80-66 to Boston College in Friday’s ACC tournament quarterfinal.

“What you have to try to do is put yourself in as good a position as you can put yourself into,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “Probably, we didn’t get into a real good position this year with some of the things that happened. Hopefully, the younger guys on the team benefit from that and the seniors get a little different resolve as they leave.”

The exclusion from the tournament capped a frustrating season for Maryland, which endured the loss of guard Chris McCray (academic suspension) in late January and went 6-8 without him. The Terps also won only twice on the road and didn’t defeat a team in the top 50 of the final RPI after Dec. 11.

Among the inclusions in the NCAA field were Utah State and Air Force, a pair of surprise at-large picks. Utah State was the WAC runner-up in the regular season and league tournament, while Air Force didn’t defeat a team in the top 50 of the RPI and lost to Wyoming in the Mountain West quarterfinals.

Those picks left some wondering why teams with similar (Maryland, Michigan and Florida State) or slightly better (Cincinnati and Missouri State) credentials were sent to the NIT.

“I wish we could have a tournament tomorrow to figure that out,” said Terps forward Nik Caner-Medley. “Trying to have as much pride as possible in this situation, I really feel like there’s a lot of teams in that tournament that we can beat. You can’t take anything away from those team. They did what it took to get there.”

Virginia plays an opening round game tomorrow at Stanford.

Neither Florida State nor Maryland reached the NCAA tournament despite having .500 records in conference play. Only six ACC teams with .500 or better league records had missed the NCAA tournament since 1980, and none of them had won an ACC tournament game. The Terps defeated Georgia Tech Thursday.

Williams said he would investigate how to tinker with his schedule to make it more appealing to future selection committees while also balancing the need to generate revenue for the athletic department.

“I don’t know what the ACC has to do, maybe lobby a little harder, maybe talk a little more during the year about what a great league we have and go from there,” Williams said. “Obviously, you can turn it around and say we should win more games than 19.”

Still, there was palpable disappointment for the Terps. It wasn’t as expected a jolt as last season, when Maryland lost four in a row to finish the season.

“It kind of makes it a little worse, especially feeling you should be in there,” senior guard Sterling Ledbetter said. “When it happens, it’s just a real hard hit on the chin. You just have to suck it up and take it.”

It will probably hit harder Thursday when the tournament begins in four cities. While other bubble teams will revel in the national attention, the Terps will prepare for the NIT again.

“It’s a great experience for the guys who get a chance to do it, and I’ll watch it with jealousy and envy wishing I was one of those guys out there playing,” Caner-Medley said. “But that’s not the way it worked this year, and it wasn’t in the cards, so we’ll move on.”

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