Shell-shocked Terps left out of N.I.T. field as season comes to end

March 13, 2011 | Luke Jones

Following their 87-71 loss to Duke in the ACC tournament quarterfinals on Friday, the Terps knew they wouldn’t be playing in the NCAA tournament.

Little did they know the NIT would also pass on them, ending their season without even knowing it as they walked off the Greensboro Coliseum floor.

For the first time since 1992-93, Maryland (19-14) will not appear in a postseason tournament, snapping the longest active streak in the ACC and ending a disappointing season sooner than expected.

“After 19 wins and beating Penn State, Florida State and Clemson, it’s disappointing that we’re not at least in the NIT,” said Gary Williams in a released statement Sunday night. “We played right with Duke for 35 minutes and got a win in the ACC tournament. It’s kind of surprising we weren’t selected.”

This year’s National Invitation Tournament includes 14 regular season champions who — by not winning their conference tournaments to qualify for the NCAA field of 68 — received automatic bids under NIT rules. This left only 18 at-large bids for the 32-team tournament, and given Maryland’s unimpressive resume that included only one win against top-50 RPI schools, the Terps (98th in the RPI, according to RealTimeRPI.com) painfully found themselves on the outside looking in.

The NIT invited three ACC teams: Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Miami. Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, and Clemson were selected earlier Sunday to represent the conference in the NCAA tournament.

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Despite the relative embarrassment of not even being invited to the bridesmaid’s postseason tournament, Sunday’s news doesn’t change what we already knew about this team. Despite close calls and competitive stretches against some of the best teams in the country, Maryland just wasn’t a very impressive basketball team. An NIT selection and subsequent run wouldn’t have changed that, but it would have brought added experience for the freshman backcourt of Terrell Stoglin and Pe’Shon Howard.

If you’re looking for a nugget of optimism after a humbling Sunday night, the last season in which Maryland failed to appear in the postseason was followed by a Sweet 16 appearance the following year (1993-94). With a promising recruiting class including City College star Nick Faust coming to College Park next season, fortunes could turn quickly for the Terps.

Of course, that will overwhelmingly hinge on the plans of all-conference sophomore Jordan Williams, who will explore his NBA draft prospects this spring. However, considering early draft projections and the NBA’s labor unrest looming for next season, logic would point to Williams returning for his junior season, improving Maryland’s chances to rebound from its first postseason absence in almost 20 years.

“We worked very hard to get to where we were with 19 wins this year,” the Maryland coach said. “We’re looking forward to the start of next season.”

Even so, the sting of the season coming to an end sooner than anticipated will last well into March and linger until the Terps receive clarity on their star’s future plans.

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