Having failed to compile a resume worthy of a spot in the expanded NCAA tournament field, Maryland suffered further indignity Sunday night when the Terrapins were snubbed for inclusion in the National Invitation Tournament.
It’s the first time since 1993 that Maryland, the 2002 NCAA champion, has failed to earn a berth in either of college basketball’s significant postseason tournaments.
The Terrapins’ omission only became clear once the last pairing for the 32-team NIT was unveiled shortly before 9:30 p.m. live on ESPNU.
“I’m shocked,” Maryland Coach Gary Williams said in a telephone interview soon afterward. Williams hadn’t received advance notice and, like his players, only learned that the Terrapins (19-14) would not be going to postseason by watching the selection show, expecting to learn at any minute his team’s seeding and first-round opponent.
“We beat Penn State. We beat Clemson. We beat Florida State,” Williams said, citing three opponents that made the NCAA tournament. “We beat N.C. State in the ACC tournament and played Duke as well as anybody did in the ACC tournament.”
As for the NIT’s 32-team field, Williams noted that it included teams with fewer wins than Maryland’s 19, as well as teams that hasn’t beaten opponents at the level the Terps had.
“I guess there are different reasons why you pick teams, other than based on the ability of the team,” Williams said.
Williams said he would decline an invitation to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, if offered.
“I have no interest in playing in that tournament,” he said.
The oldest tournament in college basketball, the NIT this season reserved 14 automatic berths for conference regular season champions who didn’t win their conference tournaments, leaving officials with 18 at-large bids, which is fewer than typical.
Reached by telephone Sunday night, C.M. Newton, who has served as a chair of the NIT selection committee since 2005, said the smaller-than-usual at-large field hurt Maryland.
“Unfortunately, that left some teams like Maryland and Mississippi State and Minnesota and some other very good teams that thought they might have a chance to get in our tournament out,” Newton said.
According to Newton, the NIT’s at-large selection process is similar to the NCAA’s, with committee members evaluating data such as the RPI and Sagarin Ratings, how teams fared against the top 100 and top 50 of the RPI, and reports of panel members who scout teams. Former N.C. State basketball coach Les Robinson was responsible for evaluating ACC teams. Then the panel votes.
“Frankly, they just didn’t get enough votes to get in,” Newton said of Maryland.
It was a disappointing day for the ACC all around, with the league placing only four teams in the NCAA tournament, down from six last season. The Big East will send a record 11 teams; the Big Ten, seven.
The biggest surprise was the omission of Virginia Tech, which beat Duke and swept Maryland en route to a 21-win season, from the NCAA. The Hokies were awarded a No. 1 seed in the NIT, as was Boston College. Miami, the third ACC team to make the NIT, earned a No. 2 seed.
As he has earlier this season, Williams suggested that part of that is a result of more effective lobbying.
“Teams like Michigan State and Michigan, for that matter, being in [the NCAA tournament] is interesting,” Williams said. “Next year, I think we’re going to be a very good team, and I’m going to talk a lot about how good we’re going to be. The Big East has done that consistently; the Big Ten has done that consistently. The ACC has to do a better job talking about how good its teams are.”
Heading into the ACC tournament, the seventh-seeded Terrapins knew that nothing short of winning the conference championship outright would land them in the 68-team NCAA field after losing their last three regular season games — at North Carolina, at Miami and at home to Virginia.
That remote chance was crushed by Duke, the Terrapins’ nemesis, which steamrolled Maryland in the final six minutes of what had been a close quarterfinal to prevail, 87-71, en route to its record 19th ACC championship.
But the Terrapins fully expected to make the NIT.