Dazed and confused in College Park
You can fry an egg on Gary Williams' forehead this morning. The Maryland coach is still steaming -- and his team is still reeling -- from the news that the Terps have been snubbed by the humble 32-team NIT.
This was a total shocker. It's the first time Maryland hasn't played in the post-season since the 1992-1993 season. And it's definitely the low point for the program Williams brought back to respectability all those years ago after the cocaine-induced death of Len Bias had left it in shambles.
Being snubbed by the NIT, the tournament for also-rans, is mind-blowing for Williams and his Terps. While a few college hoops pundits thought 19-14 Maryland was on the bubble to make even the NIT, most everyone else thought it was a slam-dunk.
Everyone knows what a bid to the NIT means. It means your team isn't good enough for the NCAA Tournament. It means you're eating at Hardees instead of Ruth's Chris, drinking Deer Park instead of Perrier, driving a Chevy Aveo instead of a Mercedes.
But it's still basketball, as several Terps had pointed out after the team's 87-71 loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament.
The Terps didn't want their season to end on the sour note of another loss to Duke. And the younger players wanted the seniors -- Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie and Dino Gregory -- to go out on a positive note.
Winning the NIT championship would have accomplished that, although with the way the Terps had been playing of late, there was certainly no reason to think they would be the last team standing.
You can bet the Terps will use this snub as motivation for next season. In that regard, it might actually turn out to be a positive development for a program that some feel has grown increasingly complacent in terms of recruiting and signing the best players available.
"We worked very hard to get to where we were with 19 wins this season," Williams said in a prepared statement Sunday night. "We're looking forward to the start of next season."
Even during his most successful seasons, when he railed about the lack of respect Maryland received nationwide from the basketball literati, Gary Williams seemed to coach with a chip on his shoulder.
But now the chip is the size of a giant redwood.