- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Gary Williams has coached in the ACC long enough to know what usually accompanies a .500 record in conference play.

“If you go 8-8, historically that’s been good enough to make the NCAA tournament,” the Maryland coach said yesterday.

It usually is. Only six teams with a .500 record or better in ACC play have missed the NCAA tournament since 1980. This year, though, could prove atypical.

Both the sixth-seeded Terrapins (18-11, 8-8 ACC) and fifth-seeded Florida State (19-8, 9-7) head into the ACC tournament probably needing at least one more victory — and in Maryland’s case, probably more — to lock up berths in the 65-team field.

Back-to-back victories against Miami and Virginia have vaulted Maryland back into the postseason discussion. Yet the same problems that weighed down the Terps for the last month — a 2-7 record both on the road and against top-50 teams in the RPI despite the winning streak — persist.

Another factor still working against the Terps is the absence of academically ineligible guard Chris McCray. Maryland earned seven of its top 10 wins with McCray and is 5-7 without him.

“The surprise to me with Maryland’s profile isn’t that they’re not in, but that they’re even as high as last four out,” said ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who has the Terps just outside the field in his latest bracket projection. “The bubble is really bad and most years I think they’d be eight or 10 spots lower than they are. Most years we’re not talking about five or six from the Missouri Valley or two or three from the Colonial or eight or nine Big East teams. There’s not a team on the bubble that doesn’t have serious flaws.”

The Terps crept back into the top 50 of the RPI according to collegerpi.com after Sunday’s win at Virginia, climbing to 47th. They also played a schedule ranked 12th in the country.

Those numbers compare favorably to bubble teams like Texas A&M; (RPI: 49, SOS: 83) and Florida State (RPI: 56, SOS: 86). Both picked up impressive wins last week — A&M; against Texas, Florida State against Duke — but neither has done much else.

“Maryland has some good wins on their schedule, but doesn’t have any great ones,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “But if Florida State is in and Texas A&M; is in, then I think Maryland has to be in the discussion. I think people are going overboard saying Florida State and Texas A&M; are automatically in because they both have the pelt of a big shot in the last week.”

Florida State is an especially curious case for ACC watchers. The Seminoles’ nonconference schedule ranks 317th of 334 Division I teams, and four of the five ACC teams they played twice finished in the bottom half of the league.

That could leave Florida State in position to become only the second ACC team with a winning league record in the last 25 seasons (joining 2000 Virginia) to miss the tournament should it lose to Wake Forest on Thursday.

“How does Florida State’s resume match up any better? Because they have one marquee win?” Bilas asked. “Everybody automatically assumes when Florida State followed up [the victory over Duke] with a win on the road, that should seal it. How come? Is that all it takes? Everybody has been beating Miami. It sort of defies reason when it takes that simple of a view.”

Bilas hopes the selection committee will mix a quantitative analysis based on RPI and statistical factors with a qualitative evaluation based on basketball. The latter would be more favorable to Maryland, which has slipped in the RPI with its road struggles.

How far the Terps must advance in Greensboro, N.C., to make it to the NCAA tournament isn’t certain, though Williams is convinced an extended run isn’t necessary.

“We have a good chance,” Williams said. “I don’t think we have to win the ACC tournament to make the NCAA tournament. We know we have to play well.”

Analysts agree and see a chance for the Terps to salvage their season with wins against Georgia Tech and Boston College in the first two rounds this week.

“In all these major conference tournaments this week, there’s going to be two or three teams that win two or three games and get people talking,” Lunardi said. “Maryland has to be one of those teams. Their story’s not written, but you have to say the first 30 chapters are pretty weak.”

Notes — Senior forward Nik Caner-Medley was named to the All-ACC third team. Junior guard D.J. Strawberry was an honorable mention all-defensive team selection.

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