Good thing for Maryland that college basketball has so many exams. Good thing for Maryland that the season is long enough for a team to recover from some bad breaks and bad play. Good time_today at 3 p.m. against Villanova_for Maryland to start proving it belongs in the NCAA tournament.
Maryland's 11-8 record translates to a midterm grade of C.
C is borderline for the NCAAs.
C gets the Terrapins lumped among McNeese State and Loyola of California, whether they deserve it or not, and also-rans from the Atlantic 10, the Gulf Star, Missouri Valley and Mid-American conferences.
C ignites anger in some Maryland fans and bafflement in others.
C caused a fellow to remind Coach Charles G. Driesell, after a victory over dreadful Wake Forest Tuesday night, that Maryland still was next to last in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Then Driesell scaled a Cole Field House railing and reminded the heckler that he is a burly 6-4 and "ain't a-scared of anybody."
While those two grown men were acting childish, a woman devoted to Maryland basketball for at least the last half-dozen years was shaking her head nearby and saying: "The blood isn't bubbling like it used to. And at my age, that's bad."
She turned toward the empty floor and said of the Terrapins:
"They're there, but that's all."
Against very good teams, the Terrapins have played reasonably well but still lost. Home and away. Half their eight losses have been to top five teams (North Carolina, Duke twice and Georgia Tech). Another was to top 10 Nevada-Las Vegas, in overtime. Still another was a rout by a Virginia team that upset the No. 1 Tar Heels Thursday night, also in Charlottesville.
Trouble is, Maryland has not scored any victories you would want to include in a note to Aunt Harriet. The computer that aids the NCAA selection committee will offer a plus to Maryland for beating the second-place team in the Southeastern Conference, Alabama, and then balance that somewhat with a loss to an Ohio State team fading in the Big Ten.
Of the rest of Maryland's opponents, the computer will rattle a few diodes in apathy. That includes Wake Forest, which is a 5-foot-3 point guard away from Division II.
Today's opponent, Villanova, has a reputation and a very good coach. But Rollie Massimino's defending NCAA champions are inexperienced overall and inadequate up front. Or at least against teams that belong in this season's tournament.
A victory at Villanova would be nice.
Perhaps even necessary.
A follow-up victory two days later against Notre Dame in South Bend would have Driesell strutting. And deservedly so. Then, by winning any five of its last seven ACC games, Maryland would march into the NCAA tournament through the front door.
That is the optimistic scenario: Maryland wins eight of its last 10 games and finishes somewhere in the middle of the ACC regular-season race. It beats Clemson, home and away; it beats N.C. State in Raleigh, Wake in Greensboro and Virginia at home. This assumes losses to Carolina in Chapel Hill and Tech here.
That would be B-plus work down the stretch, a 19-10 record that would guarantee an NCAA bid no matter what happens in the ACC tournament.
"I said we could have a good club and not have that many wins in January because of our schedule," Driesell said.
Except for the loss to N.C. State at home, Maryland is about where realists figured it to be. So is the ACC, with three contrasting teams clearly above the rest. Carolina is taller than Duke and deeper than Tech; Duke is quicker than Carolina and more experienced than Tech; Tech has a better starting five than either Duke or Carolina.
Nineteen games into the season, Driesell insists he has tinkered with the Terrapins' opening lineup long enough.
"But I may change if we lose," he adds.
Coaches are like that. Fickle as fans sometimes. But the Maryland faithful were more devoted than usual before the season. For the first time in several years, season tickets were sold out. This very likely was more in anticipation of a thrilling final season by Len Bias than anything extraordinary from the team.
Bias certainly has not disappointed.
Driesell knows that although players work for the present, coaches devote much energy to the future. In this regard, he especially needs some Bias-like recruits to stay competitive with Dean Smith at Carolina and younger rivals Bobby Cremins at Tech and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and to stay even with Jim Valvano at State and Terry Holland at Virginia.
C work off the court also won't do.