- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 10, 2007

TAMPA, Fla. — Maryland coach Gary Williams watched his players trickle out of the locker room on Thursday after a 67-62 loss to Miami before eventually tackling an inevitable question.

Was he, like everyone else in the building, surprised by the Terrapins’ lackluster outing that ensured a one-day stay at the ACC tournament after coming in with a seven-game winning streak?

“I’m not stunned about anything,” Williams said. “I’ve coached a thousand games. I don’t get stunned anymore.”

Well, 911 games to be exact, but who’s counting? In other words, there isn’t much Williams hasn’t seen in 29 years as a college head coach.

That includes 14 previous trips to the NCAA tournament, a figure that will rise when this year’s 65-team field in unveiled tomorrow night. It will be the first NCAA berth for the Terrapins (24-8) in three years, and Thursday’s loss did nothing to change Maryland’s certainty of playing next week.

However, the Terps’ seeding — and destination — were sent into flux. Had Maryland simply split two games and not suffered a questionable loss, it seemed likely it would be a No. 3 or No. 4 seed next week.

More importantly, the Terps were in line to benefit from the NCAA’s pod system and stay at a reasonably nearby site in the first weekend — Buffalo, N.Y., Columbus, Ohio, or Winston-Salem, N.C.

Now, it’s anyone’s guess where Maryland will play and what seed it will earn. That outcome, obviously, depends on outcomes in conference tournaments in the next few days, but a No. 4 or No. 5 seed and a trip to Spokane, Wash., for the first weekend is a greater possibility.

“The most likely place would be Buffalo,” said Jerry Palm of collegerpi.com, who had the Terps as the final No. 3 seed in the bracket he constructed yesterday morning. “If they’re a four, they could get shipped out west. As a four, you get what you get.”

The Terps themselves had no idea on Thursday, and were more preoccupied with a listless performance that belied their strong play over the last month.

Instead of living up to their newly anointed status as a pre-tournament favorite, the Terps flopped when they failed to contain Miami on the offensive glass, their shooters mistook the St. Pete Times Forum for the fastest-on-the-draw-wins Wild West and they committed ill-timed turnovers throughout their brief stay.

“We have an opportunity to be a great team this year,” junior forward James Gist said. “Right now we’re going through building blocks and learning lessons, and this is like another learning lesson. When you win seven in a row, you’re going to start getting attention and people are going to start coming for you. You have to be ready for that.”

The Terps, whose resume includes a 9-6 record against the top 50 teams in the RPI, still possess an impressive profile. They won eight of their final 10 games (another figure analyzed by the selection committee) and own a reputable road record (6-4) and strength of schedule (11).

Plus, there’s the inevitability that most of the teams jockeying with the Terps for seeding will lose in the next few days.

“A lot of teams like Maryland lost yesterday,” Palm said. “All this stuff is relative. It’s not just you. It’s you relative to everyone else. Almost everyone goes in with a loss. Up at the top there will be six major conference champions, and everybody else lost. That’s the nature of this time of year.”

Also endemic to March is the possibility of a one-and-done with a lousy performance. The Terps struggled in that environment this week, but are determined to do better in their second chance — regardless of seed or site.

“We’ll see on Sunday,” senior guard D.J. Strawberry said. “Wherever we’re at, we’re going to go play and we’re going to try to win it.”

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