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Terps Expect To Rise to The Occasion

Victory at Virginia Tech Would Ensure NCAA Bid

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 5, 2005; Page D01

Neither Maryland Coach Gary Williams nor his players had much to say yesterday. The ramifications of today's regular season finale at Virginia Tech were clear and perhaps a little frightening.

Maryland's streak of 11 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances rides largely on whether the Terrapins (16-10, 7-8 ACC) can beat the Hokies (14-12, 7-8) in Blacksburg, Va., at 4 p.m. Players want to avoid the stigma of being the first group of Terps to play in the National Invitation Tournament in more than a decade.

John Gilchrist, above, and the Terrapins are aware that their streak of 11 straight NCAA appearances is in jeopardy. "I think of it all the time," Travis Garrison said. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)

"I know I think of it [the streak] all the time," Maryland forward Travis Garrison said. "But I think we'll be in the NCAAs."

Either way, Maryland's season will have a different feel after today.

A win would ensure that Maryland would not play during the first day of the ACC tournament on Thursday at MCI Center and would virtually lock up an NCAA tournament berth. A loss would mean Maryland would need to win at least one game in the ACC tournament, and probably two, to have a realistic chance to reach the NCAA tournament.

When Williams faced the media yesterday, he wrapped his hands around the back of his head and enjoyed his 60th birthday as much as he could with the season on the brink. Like always, he accentuated the positives in what has been a frustrating and inconsistent season for the Terps.

"We're in great position," he said. "A lot of teams would like to be where we are."

Maryland could finish anywhere from fourth to eighth in the ACC, depending upon league results today and tomorrow. A cluster of five teams with seven ACC wins clog the middle of the standings. No team outside the top three schools -- North Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke -- has more than 17 victories.

With a victory, Maryland would finish no worse than fifth, which is important because the Terps would avoid an extra game in the ACC tournament. A Maryland victory today would mean that the Terps would play at 2:30 p.m. Friday in the ACC quarterfinals against an opponent yet to be determined.

"If we finish fourth, you'll definitely see a big smile on my face," Maryland's Mike Grinnon said. "You guys [media] won't be asking me all these tough questions anymore."

Williams gave his players instructions after Maryland lost to North Carolina, 85-83, Sunday: Do not worry about outcomes of any games except today's in Blacksburg.

Although Maryland had no control over it, other league results this week have helped Maryland's cause. Duke beat Miami on Thursday, undercutting the Hurricanes' chances of finishing ahead of Maryland in the ACC. And Virginia Tech lost a heart-wrenching game at Clemson on Tuesday, which put the Hokies' NCAA tournament hopes in serious jeopardy.

A victory today would essentially wrap up Maryland's NCAA tournament bid because, since 1992, only three ACC teams with 8-8 league records have not earned invitations. And Maryland likely wouldn't be the fourth left out because of its solid Ratings Percentage Index, a measurement of a team's strength the selection committee considers, in the low 40s.

A loss today would make Maryland's situation murkier. It would give the Terps losses in their final three regular season games, including two at home. They would also hobble into the postseason with a 2-7 overall road record.

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