- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2007

Facing the possibility of earning the No. 4 seed (and a bye) in this week’s ACC tournament or a No. 5 seed, Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry calmly shrugged with the assurance of a man whose team finished the regular season with a seven-game winning streak.

“It really doesn’t matter to me,” Strawberry said after the Terrapins’ 79-59 victory over N.C. State on Saturday. “Get the four seed and you play Carolina in the second round, and that’s hard. You get the five seed, and you play four games. That’s hard, too. Either way you go, it’s going to be a battle.”

It turned out the only deficit Maryland (24-7, 10-6 ACC) couldn’t climb out of after a listless start in conference play was in the chase for an opening-round bye. The Terps were dealt the No. 5 seed after North Carolina defeated Duke yesterday, setting up a first-round date with last-place Miami (11-19, 4-12) on Thursday in Tampa, Fla.

The rest of the seeding picture also solidified.

Virginia Tech (20-10, 10-6) will be the No. 3 seed after losing to Clemson and will meet either Georgia Tech or Wake Forest in the quarterfinals. Virginia (20-9, 11-5), which had a chance to clinch the outright regular season title but lost Saturday, settled for the No. 2 seed and will play Duke or N.C. State.

Neither Virginia nor Virginia Tech (nor anyone else in the ACC) is playing as well as Maryland has in the last three weeks. The Terps’ strong finish which strengthened the comparison between this year’s group and the Final Four-bound bunch in 2001 that won five straight at the end of the regular season might make them one of this week’s favorites.

The Terps do face the task of winning four straight days, but it is hard to gauge how difficult that really is. Just one team in ACC tournament history has played four games in as many nights (1997 N.C. State), although a Thursday date was reserved for only the two worst teams until expansion arrived two years ago.

“We’re not asking for any help,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “We’ll go play four if we have to play four if that’s the way it works. I think we can do that. We have a deep enough bench.”

Maryland’s depth has helped it throughout the winning streak, permitting the Terps to wear down Duke and N.C. State twice and keep pace with North Carolina’s 12-man rotation. But it wasn’t the only facet to come into play during the surge.

The Terps’ passing and rebounding grew noticeably better in the closing weeks, and the offensive balance present as Maryland won its first eight games returned just in time for a run at an NCAA tournament berth.

“The thing I keep saying is that we keep thinking about how we were in the beginning of the year,” guard Parrish Brown said. “I think this is how we were playing in the beginning of the year. If we continue to play like this, we’ll do good in the future.”

That could yet include a high seed in the NCAA tournament. Maryland probably would earn a No. 4 seed with just one win in Tampa, but four victories might propel the Terps as high as a No. 2.

“There’s a lot of people giving us credit, but we just don’t worry about that,” guard Greivis Vasquez said. “We just have to keep playing hard, keep working hard and keep winning.”


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