ATLANTA | Strewn about a meeting room in a posh downtown hotel here Sunday were reminders of the diminished expectations of Maryland basketball.
One sheet distributed during the ACC‘s media day listed Maryland’s preseason rankings in several publications, none higher than seventh in the 12-team league and one in last place.
Even with a voting somewhat removed from the conference’s geographic epicenter, the assembled media delivered a similar prognostication for the Terrapins: seventh, just ahead of Georgia Tech and N.C. State in the ACC’s second division.
“Obviously, North Carolina and Duke, they’re always going to be up there because they’re good every year,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “What we’ve done the last 15 years, I always get a kick out of teams being picked ahead of us every year that we’ve beaten every year. Let’s just play the games.”
North Carolina, which reached the Final Four a year ago, returns five starters and is generally regarded as the nation’s top team, was a unanimous choice to win the league. Virginia Tech was picked to finish sixth, while Virginia ranked last.
Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough, last year’s consensus national player of the year, was a unanimous pick as the ACC’s preseason player of the year.
Maryland is coming off a season during which it tied for fifth in the ACC but was relegated to the NIT for the third time in four years. It also lost starting forwards James Gist and Bambale Osby to graduation from a 19-15 team.
The lack of tested frontcourt options is the Terps’ most obvious flaw, though junior guard Greivis Vasquez shrugged off the lower than usual expectations.
“We just have to prove people wrong,” said Vasquez, who was excluded from the league’s preseason all-conference team. “We have to play with what we got and not complain. It’s understandable when people will say we’re going to make it back to the NIT and all that because we lost James and Boom. I think we’re doing a pretty good job.”
Few could quibble with picking North Carolina as the favorite in a league in which every team returns at least three starters. But it is difficult to discern a logical order after the Tar Heels.
“Duke is a terrific No. 2, and from that point on it’s a toss-up,” Miami coach Frank Haith said. “Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Clemson - there’s a number of teams you could put in that discussion.”
The preseason, of course, is the time for coaches in all conferences to make random declarations on how many teams will earn postseason berths. Williams tossed out a projection of seven or eight while asserting - as others have - the ACC’s absence of lousy programs at the bottom of the league.
Note - Williams said he expects freshman forward Jin Soo Kim’s qualifying appeal to the NCAA to be heard Thursday. If Kim does not qualify, the only way he will be eligible ever to play at Maryland would be to become qualified at a junior college and later return.
“Hopefully we’ll get good news because he can really shoot it,” Williams said. “He’s one of the best shooters here right now.”