Terps bid on going from bad to worse

THINGS GOT UGLY Wednesday night in College Park, with the Maryland fans booing Gary Williams' Terrapins and Williams speaking sarcastically to the crowd after Florida State's upset of the Terps. He should know better.

But as bad as all that was, the worst might be yet to come.


Imagine the Terps not even qualifying for the NCAA tournament after opening the season ranked fifth in the country.

The chances are real, very real. And anyone dismissing that as "sky is falling" hysteria isn't paying attention.


The Terps are ranked No. 17 in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll despite losing five of their past six games, but astonishingly, they were No. 61 in yesterday's Ratings Percentage Index listings, a key tool the NCAA uses to select and seed tournament teams.

That's right, No. 61, behind such teams as Butler, Wyoming, Illinois State, Cal-Irvine and Massachusetts, the last toting an 11-11 record.

Shoot, even Georgia State, coached by you-know-who ("Ah can coach, you know"), is 11 places ahead of the Terps in the almighty RPI.

Combine an RPI ranking that low with a 1-6 record against ranked opponents and no standout wins - sorry, beating Wake Forest at home doesn't cut it ---and the Terps have landed where no one expected:

On the bubble.

Easily capable of missing out on the NCAAs altogether unless they do something in a hurry about a slump that hit bottom Wednesday night with a home loss to a team that Morgan State led at halftime in December.

The Terps still hold their fate in their hands with a 15-9 record and five regular-season games and the ACC tournament left. But the margin of error suggested by a No. 17 ranking and a 64-team field simply doesn't exist.

Sixteen wins won't cut it. Nor will 17, most likely. Eighteen? Maybe. Any more than that? No doubt.


But that means the Terps have to reverse gears now - as in right now - and start winning again, which won't be easy with four of those five remaining regular-season games against Top 25 opponents.

Basically, the Terps have no choice but to beat both North Carolina State and Oklahoma at Cole Field House, and also to beat either Wake Forest there, Duke there or Virginia at Cole. That would give them 18 wins with an 8-8 conference record, probably just enough to qualify for the tournament.

But at this point, does anyone have faith in their ability to win even one of their remaining five games? How can you? The Terps have collapsed in every way, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. When you lose at home to Florida State, you can go no lower.

They certainly have the talent and potential to do better, but that's a tired and dated angle at this point, yesterday's news. The Terps are what they are, not what they should be. And what they are is not very good.

It's a new experience for Williams, who has previously had to deal only with season-ending criticism in the wake of the Terps' NCAA losses. This emergency is different, unfolding in January and February, in front of home crowds, with Williams available and accessible instead of gone on the recruiting trail.

And things are not going well, to say the least. Talk-show switchboards and Internet bulletin boards have lit up with criticisms and calls for Williams' head, and while that's certainly premature, the coach has responded defensively and angrily at times, referring to one chat questioner as an "idiot."


Let's get this straight: Williams has accomplished more than enough in a dozen years at Maryland to warrant surviving his first major disaster of a season, especially with so many years left on his contract. But he doesn't help himself when he gets down on the level of his knee-jerk accusers and trades sarcastic insults in public. That's not how any school wants its most visible coach to behave.

Sure, it's reprehensible that the fans at Cole booed the Terps the other night, but that's all just part of the knowing, wise-guy culture popularized mostly by ESPN, a culture that has promoted college basketball, anointed coaches and made a lot of money for a lot of them. Williams should just turn the other cheek.

Besides, he has bigger problems on his hands than booing fans. Pumping some confidence back into his players, for instance. Bringing them together and doing something, anything, to get the Terps' RPI back up to the level NCAA selectors favor.

Actually, you can't blame all of that No. 61 ranking on the Terps. Scheduling strength carries a lot of weight in the RPI, and the Terps were let down when early-season opponents Louisville, Michigan, George Washington and Pennsylvania turned out to be lightweights this season. Tough luck there.

But the Terps have no right to complain. They have beaten only those disappointing teams, a string of easy marks in December and unranked ACC teams this season, with just a couple of exceptions. The big wins they have routinely scored in recent seasons haven't materialized, resulting in a crisis of confidence, and finally, just a crisis, period.

It's getting loud and ugly and confrontational, as these things tend to do. And unless the Terps wake up, the worst might be yet to come.