Gary Williams, Terps just fine with their lack of drama

By Mike Wise
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Before new math wrested control of the NCAA men's tournament -- RPI (ratings percentage index), SOS (strength of schedule), signature wins (as opposed to "really depressing wins"?) and, of course, bad losses (which is apparently worse than "really swell losses"?) -- there were only coaches and players and teams in college basketball.

When teams won enough, they had a chance to play for the national title. When they didn't, they went home. Sometimes coaches were fired. Sometimes new recruits were brought in. Sometimes university presidents had to soul-search, asking themselves: "Do we play by the rules? Or say, 'The hell with it' and hire John Calipari?"

Maryland decided the former long ago. It got a coach whose obsession is the opponent in front of him: North Carolina State on Wednesday night. Georgia Tech on Saturday.

"I'm not going to talk about the tournament," Coach Gary Williams thankfully said Tuesday afternoon, moments before Maryland's bus left for Raleigh. "This was never about the NCAA tournament. It's a joke to talk about it. There is nothing guaranteed. It's a waste of your time. It's a waste of my time."

"I don't even look at a computer," he added. "I've been doing this a long time, okay? You try to win as many games as you coach. Period. Anyway, these guys probably name 100 teams that are going to be in the tournament. No one knows today."

It's anyone's guess how far the Terps will go this season. They couldn't rack up a victory against Villanova or Wisconsin earlier this season. But they have gone 17-7 overall and 7-3 in the ACC and have been in every game except last Saturday at Duke, which hasn't lost on its home court this season.

Like Duke, they have beaten their ACC opponents at home by an average margin of 19 points.

Are they a top-10 power? No. But minus Dave Neal and plus experience, it's essentially the same guard-heavy team that got to the second round of the tournament a year ago. Greivis Vasquez is calmer and better, freshman Jordan Williams has tremendous upside and, depending on who you talk to, Maryland probably runs between seven and nine players deep.

Maryland also should get credit for its flat-out stability this season. Especially after all the seat-of-the-pants rides Gary, Greivis and the gang took their followers on the past few seasons, where every February game held the promise of exactly two things: redemption or the gallows.

"We learned a lot from last year," Gary Williams said. "We play every game. We don't worry about three weeks from now. If you keep things in the present, you're usually okay."

If Maryland wins four of its last seven games, it enters the ACC tournament with a 21-win season. That's almost certainly enough to not worry about going to the ACC tournament with its NCAA tournament worthiness on the line. And what a relief that would be for a fan base that's had to deal with all those maddening, bad-for-the-heart moments since 2005.

Yes, as good as those drama kings of the past were, these Terps actually should be saluted for their sanity.

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