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Thursday, March 12, 2009
Maryland survives but will it advance?


ATLANTA -- Maryland coach Gary Williams knew there was no way his team could be insulated from the constant bubble talk.

Maryland's season-ending loss at Virginia meant the wildly erratic Terps had to beat NC State in the first round of the ACC tournament to have a chance to get an at-large berth.

They did. But that hardly clears the path to the NCAAs for the 19-12 Terps.

"I was proud of our team, there was a lot of pressure, a lot of pressure on them,'' Williams said after the 74-69 win over the Wolfpack. "The players heard everything -- that they had to beat NC State, had to beat Wake Forest. It's all over the Internet, all the talk on television was about how we had to beat NC State and have to beat Wake Forest.''

Maryland has had one of the stranger seasons, beating the Big Ten champ Michigan State on a neutral court in Orlando in November and taking out the ACC outright champ North Carolina at home in overtime last month. In between, the Terps got blown out by Georgetown, Duke and Clemson.

"We know more about ourselves now than we did in November,'' Williams said. "We know we can play and beat a team like Wake Forest.''

Body of work is the phrase of choice by the selection committee. What does Williams think of the Terps' body of work?

"I want to play great [Friday] that's what I think about our body of work,'' Williams said.

When Williams heard of all the upsets Thursday he said that's why he continues to believe the NCAA tournament field should be expanded beyond 65.

"You couldn't have 16, you had to go to 32 and then you had to go to 48 and then had to go to 64,'' Williams said. "Every time you expand, there are more good teams to look at. That's what those scores are showing.''

The Terps are showing they can rely on someone other than Greivis Vasquez. If the Terps are to beat Wake Forest they would need another effort like they received from guard Eric Hayes. Hayes scored 21 points on an efficient 5 of 6 shooting, all of which were 3s. Vasquez added 17 and the overachieving David Neal contributed 10 on a pair of 3s.

BC rests easy … for now
Boston College's convincing win over Virginia Thursday night may not have been needed to ensure a bid to the NCAA tournament.

But it did provide the Eagles with one comfort: they can play Duke in the quarterfinals Friday without any must-win pressure.

The Eagles (22-10) can rest easy. Barring some fluke, they are in the field. Playing a game against Duke, without the weight of needing to win the way Maryland will feel against Wake Forest or Virginia Tech against North Carolina, will put the Eagles at ease.

"There were games that we had to win like Georgia Tech [on a Rakim Sanders buzzer beater last Saturday] after losing to NC State,'' BC senior Tyrese Rice said. "After losing to NC State a lot of people were ruling us out. We had to take care of business. There was a little panic involved. Now we're more relaxed and playing ball.''

BC played one of its most complete games of the season. Sanders scored 25 points.

"There was a lot of pressure where guys were so anxious to get a win without knowing if we would get a bid,'' Sanders said. "This takes pressure off and we can just focus on each game.''

Big man Josh Southern was reliable in the post for 13 points and nine boards and the Eagles won without big nights from Rice (1 of 6, nine points) or Joe Trapani (12 points, 1 of 4 on 3s).

"I got into a groove early and was able to maintain it the whole game,'' Southern said. "I played through fouls, we got key boards and we shared the ball.''

Duke will be primed to avenge the loss to the Eagles. Winning the ACC tournament could also put the Blue Devils in contention for a top-two seed. Duke is a different team, using Elliot Williams next to Jon Scheyer on the perimeter with Nolan Smith out (concussion) and Greg Paulus coming off the bench. Containing Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson is still paramount to any win against the Blue Devils.

"We have to match their intensity on offense and defense,'' Trapani said. "We have to attack the rim.''

Boston College coach Al Skinner said the Eagles had done enough to warrant a bid. So, he wasn't feeling the weight of being Virginia, either. Still, the Eagles enter the Duke game with confidence.

"We're going to do what we're going to do,'' said the always consistent Skinner. "We were fortunate enough to get enough wins to be in the tournament. Now it makes it easier. We can just focus on this game.''

Miami's McClinton hampered by injury
The numbers back up Jack McClinton's excuse: he's hurt.

The Miami senior guard said he sprained the MCL in his left knee at the end of the Boston College game on Feb. 21.

McClinton scored 22 points in the win over the Eagles, making 4 of 7 3-pointers. Since then McClinton's production has dipped dramatically. McClinton scored just 11 points in a win at Virginia, 13 in a 10-point loss at Georgia Tech and while he scored 24 in a win over NC State at home, McClinton was 3 of 15 from the field. He scored most of his points at the line, going 16 of 16. His shot was clearly off throughout that stretch, going 3 of 10 against the Cavs and 3 of 13 against the Yellow Jackets.

He was 4 of 11 in the 65-47 loss to Virginia Tech early Thursday, making 1 of 6 from 3. McClinton didn't give up the ball, either, a he had one assists and seven turnovers.

"I didn't want to say nothing, I just wanted to keep playing,'' a despondent McClinton said.

The Canes have had plenty of chances to make the NCAA but Thursday's loss was likely the last blown opportunity. Miami lost in the final possessions to NC State, Duke, North Carolina and wasn't even in the second half against Virginia Tech.

"I don't have the answer,'' McClinton said of the Miami collapse. "I didn't have a great game. I know I have to have a great game for us to win.''

Miami went to the NCAA second round last season, beating Saint Mary's and losing to Texas in a game that came down to the final minutes. The expectations were high for the Canes to return this season. I had no reservation picking Miami in the preseason top 15-20.

"It hurts, I tried to carry my team back to the NCAA tournament and I feel like I let my teammates down,'' McClinton said. "We've got to put this game behind and hopefully get an NIT bid and go from there and make some noise.''

• Miami coach Frank Haith said if the 'Canes are in the NIT they can't host a first-round game due to a building availability issue.

• Clemson is struggling heading into the NCAA tournament. Clemson lost at Wake Forest last Sunday and bowed out to Georgia Tech Thursday.

"The No. 1 thing we have to have is everybody on the coaching staff looking at what we can do better,'' Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "We have to analyze what worked. We scored in the 80s and didn't win. Defensively we didn't do our job. If we have to score 90 points to win that's too much pressure to win.''

• Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said he has no second thoughts about scheduling Eastern Washington for Friday night in advance of Selection Sunday after the Gaels were blown out by Gonzaga in the WCC final Monday night.

"I scheduled it so we could get better,'' Bennett said Thursday. "That's what we need.''

Bennett said the Gaels are still adjusting to adding point guard Patty Mills back in the lineup after he missed the past month with a broken right hand. Mills played against Portland and Gonzaga in the WCC tournament.

Mills was 3 of 12 (2 of 9 on 3s) for 12 points, four assists and three turnovers in the win over Portland but was 2 of 16 (0 of 7 on 3s) for five points, one assist and three turnovers in the 83-58 loss to Gonzaga.

Bennett said Mills isn't bothered by his hand anymore but it's just a matter of conditioning and getting more comfortable playing again.

Bennett added that the Gaels aren't going to get better through just practicing. He said they need another game. What about the Gaels' NCAA chances?

"I feel good, but I'm not making the decision,'' Bennett said. "Why wouldn't we be in?''

• The ACC should take the Big 12's cue and move the conference tournament to a Wednesday-Saturday format. Playing Sunday gets lost amid the bracket announcement later in the day. It also diminishes the impact of winning a conference tournament. Teams can't fully embrace it because their attention has immediately turned to the bracket. A year ago, North Carolina had to pull over on I-85 at a local restaurant to watch the Selection Show while coming back to Chapel Hill from Charlotte.

• Former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson is here working radio. Sanderson is of course passionate about the Alabama job. The Alabama search will be extensive this month and one name that continues to come up is USC coach Tim Floyd. Floyd has said countless times that he wants to stay in L.A. and secured a major commitment from Renardo Sidney. Still, as is the case in many of these jobs, schools look at their gig as better than other jobs. VCU's Anthony Grant, one of the hot names on the coaching carousel yet again, is much more of a fit at Georgia than Alabama. As Sanderson said, Georgia is a job where the players are in place while the passion at Alabama can certainly be more intense.

• Boston University will command plenty of interest. My colleague Pat Forde reports that former Boston Celtic Walter McCarty is a viable candidate. Two assistants with local ties that will be very much in the mix are Boston College's Pat Duquette and Worcester native Tom Herrion, the associate head coach at Pitt.

• One game doesn't make a decision for the selection committee but it's amazing how many potential bubble teams fell in two days: Northwestern, Miami, Providence, UNLV and Kansas State. More are sure to follow.