Seven days ago, the Maryland men's basketball team was heading for Durham, N.C., and a meeting with then-second-ranked Duke that was supposed to help indicate whether the Terps, then 18th in The Associated Press poll, belonged among the nation's elite.
The Terps dropped a 75-62 decision to the Blue Devils, and with Wednesday's 73-66 loss to Virginia, the whispers about Maryland not yet being ready for prime time will likely get louder, especially with games against Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Florida State coming up.
Those all could produce losses that would drop the 21st-ranked Terps below the .500 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The existential observation of the week is that the Terps probably aren't as good as they looked two weeks ago, when they stomped North Carolina State and Clemson, but not as bad as they appeared to be against Virginia or Duke.
First, the good news. With their strength of schedule and the way they've played upper-echelon teams such as North Carolina and Massachusetts, Maryland really needs only to finish at .500 in the Atlantic Coast Conference to secure its first NCAA tournament bid since the 1987-88 season.
That's an eminently reachable goal, even if the Terps drop their ++ next three, since they'll be favored in three of their final five league games -- at home against Wake Forest and Virginia and on the road at N.C. State -- with a fourth victory at Clemson a distinct possibility.
And a berth in the NCAA tournament could very well lead to a first-round game at the USAir Arena, where this magical ride of a season began with an overtime win over Georgetown in November.
Now, the bad news. Even with the fabulous Joe Smith, the leading candidate for national Freshman of the Year honors, the Terps are still at least two players away from making a serious run at the Top 10.
One of those players has to be a beefy inside presence who will allowthe slender Smith to play power forward, the slot that would allow him to take better advantage of his outside shooting talents and quickness, not to mention the position he'll play in the NBA.
The other player Maryland coach Gary Williams needs, perhaps even more than a big man, is a reliable outside shooting threat who can make opposing defenses pay for double- and triple-teaming Smith. Guard Johnny Rhodes has that ability, but he, so far, hasn't shown the kind of consistency needed to relieve the strain on an inside player, though his rebounding is a huge plus.
With those two additions, the Terps could come to the Baltimore Arena during next season's NCAA East sub-regionals as the highest seed in town.
Because the women's Final Four is just slightly lower on the marquee than the Super Bowl, the NCAA drew none of the criticism from playing a championship under the Georgia flag last April as the NFL did in the last week.
But the men's 1996 East Regional and the 2002 Final Four are scheduled for the Georgia Dome and there certainly will be some adverse comment from black players and coaches if the Civil War battle emblem isn't removed from the state flag by then.
There is certainly plenty of time for the NCAA to move the event or prod the Georgia legislature to remove the Confederate symbol.
The Retriever bunch
Athletic teams are always looking for some psychological edge, and the UMBC women's team thinks it has found one, at least at home.
The Retrievers take the floor at the UMBC Fieldhouse to the tune of the '60s sitcom, "The Brady Bunch," and two players are known to tape daily reruns to watch after practice.
It must be working, since the Retrievers are 5-0 at home and have only allowed one team, Towson State, to shoot above 40 percent from the field in a game.
One must wonder how good UMBC would be if it were devoted to a real show, like "The Partridge Family," for instance.
Eye on CFA
At first blush, the rumored marriage of CBS and thSoutheastern Conference for the purpose of bringing college football back to "The Eye" network seems to have little effect on college basketball.
But there are rumors that some athletic directors who serve as members of the Division I men's basketball committee, which runs the tournament, may seek revenge on both the SEC and CBS.
The athletic directors may freeze out SEC schools, who reportedly are considering leaving the College Football Association for a separate deal with CBS, by not scheduling them in football or basketball.
For CBS, which just lost pro football to Fox, the prospects are more ominous. There are rumblings that if the network and the SEC strike a deal, the committee could award the tournament, the third-biggest television prize after the Super Bowl and World Series, to another network when the seven-year, $1 billion deal expires after the 1997 season.
Upset Pick of the Week
With a 4-1 record, the Upset Pick moves on boldly to predict that the 24th-ranked Florida men, riding high with their first national ranking in four years and leading the SEC East, will taste defeat tomorrow at home against Mississippi State, the equally surprising SEC West leader.