- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It was the rarest of Selection Sundays for Maryland coach Gary Williams, the first time in 15 years he knew for sure the Terrapins would not be selected for the NCAA tournament.

So did he tune in for the bracket announcement?

“Yeah, which one?” Williams said yesterday.

A little gallows humor doesn’t hurt, though the message sent by the NIT selection committee probably didn’t tickle. Rather than remain at home in Comcast Center for a round or two, the Terps were shipped to Minneapolis for a first-round game tonight at Minnesota (20-13).

The Terps (18-14) stayed at home in their 2005 and 2006 detours into the NIT, but this year’s team lost five of six to finish the season. Williams said he didn’t know much about the seeding process but pointed out the Golden Gophers feasted on the bottom half of the Big Ten — a conference that collectively endured a down year.

“They had beaten Northwestern twice, Penn State twice, Michigan twice and Iowa once for seven out of their eight wins,” said Williams, excluding an extra victory over Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament. “You don’t do that in our league.”

Indeed, yesterday was a day for conference politicking, a never-ending game coaches play that hits its apogee the Monday before the NCAA tournament commences.

But Williams’ haggling will fade some tonight. Maryland will be looking to avoid a first-round flameout, much as it did in a zombie-like performance in its loss to Manhattan in the 2006 NIT.

It has been five days since the Terps scuffled out of Charlotte (N.C.) Bobcats Arena with a first-round loss to Boston College in the ACC tournament. Among other things, it placed Maryland in the same box as about a dozen teams with control of their respective fates only to suffer a swift exit from a conference tournament.

It also officially ensured Maryland would go through an entire season without being ranked for the first time since 1992-93 — the year before Williams’ first NCAA team at Maryland.

With so much already lost, it will be curious — and telling — to see how much verve a team with such a litany of blown leads this season will display.

“You’re playing basketball, and that’s the point I’ve tried to make to our players,” Williams said. “You are playing basketball. Whether you don’t like the fact we’re in the NIT, well, we could have done something about that by winning more games. So this is where we are. So you play, and you play to win.”

Those come-from-ahead losses have frustrated Williams, who said he would attempt to ascertain just why the problem continued to arise throughout the season.

But for now, he’d like to witness a more memorable finish for the Terps — even if they did pop up on the second selection show Williams watched Sunday.

“I’m not having tryouts for next year or anything,” Williams said. “We’re trying to win the game. If we could use some guys, great. But I owe it to our team to try to win it. We’re a team that tied for fifth in the ACC. We don’t have our tail between our legs.”

Today’s game


When: 9:30 p.m.

Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis

TV/radio: ESPN, FM-106.7, AM-1300, FM-105.7

Outlook: Maryland leads series 3-0. The Terrapins are forced to play a true road game in the NIT for the first time since 1990, coach Gary Williams” first season at Maryland. Senior guard Lawrence McKenzie averages a team-high 12.2 points for the Golden Gophers. Minnesota is making its first NIT appearance since 2003, when it finished fourth.

Patrick Stevens

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