By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 13, 2006
For the second consecutive season, Maryland did not make the NCAA tournament, a fate that was expected after Boston College blew out the Terrapins in Friday's quarterfinals of the ACC tournament.
What was unexpected was the bizarre events that followed yesterday's unveiling of the 65-team NCAA tournament.
Terps Coach Gary Williams initially announced that Maryland would decline a spot in the National Invitation Tournament. No more than 30 minutes later, however, Williams said that Maryland would accept the invitation. The Terps (19-12) will play Saturday at Comcast Center against the winner of the game between Manhattan and Fairleigh Dickinson.
"Unbelievable," was how Williams summed up the night.
Williams, around the time the NIT matchups were expected to be announced, entered the Comcast Center media room to tell reporters that he chose not to play in large part because of injuries. He said Nik Caner-Medley's ankle injury, which he suffered against Boston College, would prevent the team from being at full strength.
Caner-Medley said earlier in the evening he was unsure whether he would be healthy enough to play this week. Williams said all of his players agreed with the decision to decline the NIT bid and that he discussed the decision with Larry Leckonby, a senior associate athletic director. He said he did not speak to Athletic Director Debbie Yow but said she was aware of the decision.
Williams was in the process of telling reporters why Maryland's season was over when he was relayed a telephone message from C.M. Newton, the chair of the NIT selection committee. Williams left the room, only to return later to explain why he made an about-face.
Williams said Newton reminded him that Maryland had already told NIT representatives during the season that Comcast Center would be available to play host to an NIT game should the Terps not make the NCAA tournament. Williams told reporters last night that he had not been aware of that agreement.
Williams said he also decided to play out of respect for Newton and Dean Smith, another member of the selection committee.
"They've got the right people involved," Williams said. "They never had 'basketball people.' Now they do."
Because of a settlement between the two parties, the NCAA bought the NIT and made some changes to the tournament. For instance, teams received seeds this season; Maryland is the top seed in the East region.
Williams smiled when a reporter suggested the NIT might offer a stronger field because most of the mid-major programs were invited to the NCAA tournament this year. The unveiling of the NCAA tournament field left Williams questioning the consistency of the selection process and whether the ACC had received proper respect after it had the same number of teams (four) invited as the Missouri Valley Conference.
This offseason, Williams said he will research components of the Rating Percentage Index, the often misunderstood mathematical measurement that the committee uses to help determine tournament berths. He also will consider whether it would be beneficial to adjust his schedule in an attempt to raise his team's RPI.
"All I want to know going into next year is what we need to do schedule-wise or whatever," he said. "That's what my job is going to be, coming up very soon."
In some instances, the committee seemed to rely heavily on computer rankings, particularly with the Valley schools. In recent weeks, Williams has been at the forefront of a debate on whether the Valley has outsmarted the RPI by the way its teams have scheduled.
But in other instances, the committee seemed to rely less on statistical analysis. Air Force and Utah State both unexpectedly received at-large bids even though both schools had worse RPIs than Maryland.
Williams noted that the 10-member committee included a high number of representatives from mid-major conferences, but added that he did not know how that affected the process.
"What's made the NCAA tournament is the six major conferences," Williams said. "They have lined up most of the schools in the sweet 16 every year. All of the sudden there has been a big push to include more schools from more conferences."
Williams was also baffled how the ACC received fewer bids than the SEC, which had six teams make the field. The ACC was ranked third among all conferences, according to CollegeRPI.com, one spot ahead of the SEC.
Between 1980 and 2005, only six ACC schools that finished .500 or better in the conference did not make the NCAA tournament. This year, two schools -- Florida State and Maryland -- finished .500 or better in the ACC and did not make it.
"And it's with more teams  in the league this year," Williams said. "In the expansion sale, that was kind of the sell they made to the basketball coaches -- 'Well, you'll get more teams in the basketball tournament.' I guess that's not necessarily true."
Maryland's shortcomings, however, had less to do with its RPI of 48 and more to do with a bland tournament profile. While the Terps did not have what would be considered a bad loss, they only had two victories against top 50 competition -- Boston College and Arkansas -- and none since leading scorer Chris McCray was ruled academically ineligible Jan. 23.
They won six of 14 games without McCray, which included three against the ACC's 11th-place team, Georgia Tech. They also won only two road games this season. Only one school among the RPI's top 100 -- Louisville -- won fewer road games.