All of the experts and bracketologists said the same thing: If Maryland beat North Carolina in the ACC semifinals, the Terps were in the NCAA Tournament.
Only that didn’t happen, and now the Terps must sweat out life on the bubble.
Former Maryland coach Gary Williams believes the Terps belong in the tournament, but he is not sure the committee will agree with him.
“I just think personally the ACC deserves five teams,” Williams said. “Maryland, with what they did in the ACC Tournament, they put themselves in that fifth position.”
In three ACC Tournament games, the Terps put forth an impressive effort. Thursday night Maryland throttled Wake Forest 75-62, but the highlight came in Friday night’s 83-74 win over Duke.
Much was made of a Duke squad that was undefeated playing with senior forward Ryan Kelly, but the Terps outplayed the Blue Devils from start to finish.
“The way they played against Duke, they played at a very high level. It wasn’t that Duke played poorly,” Williams said.
But the Terps could not pull out the win they needed win against the Tar Heels.
“That game could have gone either way,” Williams said of Maryland’s loss to Carolina. “It’s just a shame. They were in if they won that game.”
Williams knows that this season the Big Ten conference has played to the highest level, but he disagrees with the emerging sentiment that the conference should send eight teams to the Big Dance.
If the Big Ten gets eight teams in, Williams believes that will limit the ACC to just four teams in the tournament.
“I can’t believe a fifth team wouldn’t go from the ACC,” Williams said. “They’ve earned the right to get a look.”
Duke, North Carolina, Miami and NC State appear to be in the NCAA tourney. Whether a fifth team from the conference -- like Maryland or Virginia -- is up for debate.
What about the Wahoos?
Virginia entered the ACC Tournament with a similar edict as Maryland: play impressive basketball, win a few games, receive an NCAA bid. The Cavs did not follow the script, losing their first game to NC State.
Of Virginia, Williams said: “Going in there they had to play well in the ACC tourney. They didn’t.”
He explained that with similar credentials for the Cavs (21-11) and Terps (22-12) the committee might table both teams while they discuss other squads with a clear advantage.
Once set aside, the fates of Virginia and Maryland could be defaulted into a place with no NCAA invitation.
“Maryland and Virginia might pull each other down,” Williams said.
Both teams can point to big conference wins, like beating Duke, but both suffered bad losses and played a weak non-conference schedule.
While Maryland does not have nearly as bad of losses as Virginia – who lost three times to teams from the one-bid CAA conference – the Cavs beat Maryland twice.
“There is an argument [Virginia] beat Maryland twice, so if Maryland goes, shouldn’t Virginia?”
Georgetown meets the criteria
While neither the Terps or Cavaliers may make the dance, Georgetown is a lock.
Williams believes the Hoyas should be a No. 1 seed despite a narrow loss to Syracuse in the Big East Tournament.
“They're deserving of a No. 1 seed,” Williams said of the Hoyas. “I know they lost to Syracuse, but they beat them twice this year. “
Williams compared this year’s Georgetown team to his 2002 national championship squad. That year, the Terps lost in the second round of the ACC Tournament but still received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hoyas resume should stand on its own, regardless of the Big East Tournament loss, much like the Terps resume did in 2002.
“We had earned it,” Williams said. “I thought Georgetown may have earned it this year.”
The key for the Hoyas, Williams explained, will be the committee looking at the entire body of work, not just the last game. On the season the Hoyas went 25-6 and racked up five wins against the RPI’s Top 25.
Who gets the No. 1 seeds?
Much talk remains to what teams will get the No. 1 seeds, though Gonzaga and Indiana seem like clear cut teams on the top line. Williams thinks Georgetown should be there, and if they win the ACC Tournament, Miami should be the fourth.
“If Miami wins tomorrow, I think they deserve a No. 1,” Williams said. “Miami can close the deal by winning tomorrow.”
Kansas could emerge as a No. 1 seed as well. The Jayhawks won the Big 12 Tournament with a convincing 70-54 win over Kansas State.
Louisville will also get serious mention as a No. 1 seed. The Cardinals used a dominant second half to beat Syracuse for the Big East Tournament championship.
Bottom line: Who gets in?
Williams talked about the tournament qualifications applied to conference tournaments. In major conferences, it seems like bubble teams that perform well in conference tournaments do not get credit for the success.
In smaller conferences, particularly one-bid leagues, typically only the automatic qualifier makes the NCAA Tournament. But this season, a team like Middle Tennessee State of the Sun Belt could test that.
“It’s a double standard,” Williams said. “Conference tournaments can’t count for playing your way in, but teams get an auto bid for winning.”
MTSU dominated the regular season in the Sun Belt, but lost in the conference tournament. Now, the committee may decide 28-5 MTSU deserves an at-large bid in addition to auto-qualifier Florida Atlantic, sending two teams from the Sun Belt.
Could an at-large berth for a team like Middle Tennessee keep the committee from inviting a fifth team from the ACC? It certainly seems like it, and Williams thinks the automatic qualifier may need to be re-examined.
“There’s teams that if you look at the record how they’ve done the last month or so, there’s room there for Maryland,” Williams said. “That’s the problem with 32 auto qualifiers.”
No one knows for sure how the committee will grade the resumes of teams like Maryland or Virginia, Middle Tennessee or Boise State.
“Different committees have looked at conference tournaments differently,” Williams said. “The makeup of the committee is important.”
For some teams, a bubble will burst; for others, NCAA dreams will become reality.
“We’ll have to see.”