College Park-- --The most powerful thing about Maryland last night wasn't Nik Caner-Medley or a boisterous home crowd or Mike Jones' outside shooting. It came from the mouth of coach Gary Williams, a man who can be as good with language as the Terps' opponents seem to be with the basketball.
Sometimes his words are just vitriolic, perfectly portioned poison that would make a flower wilt.
Let's cut to the meat of what Williams thought after the Terps' 77-62 loss to North Carolina: "I was disgusted," he said.
If you're not convinced that's a powerful word, think of the imagery. Disgust is an emotion we associate with something rotten, something that makes your stomach reconsider your lunchtime decisions.
As strong as the word is, are we really shocked that Williams felt that way? Most observers of Terps basketball have been hampered by similar symptoms the past several weeks.
Last night marked Maryland's first home loss of the season. The final numbers aren't pretty:
The Terps shot 26.5 percent from the field in the second half. They were out-rebounded 52-34. They were 3-for-16 from behind the three-point arc and 9-for-17 from the free-throw line.
You can see why Williams was so upset. But let's forget last night for a second. The nauseating feeling that many Terps fans feel right now stems from what lies ahead.
It's still too early to start scouting NIT opponents, but the Terps are staring at a schedule without a single guarantee. This isn't like past seasons when you could scan over a few conference foes and circle the big-time opponents. This Maryland team has traded must-wins for can't-wins.
Earlier this week, the NCAA released its first Rating Percentage Index rankings of the season. Not surprisingly, the list had Maryland at No. 28, which seems like a cozy spot to start dreaming about the NCAA tournament. But not these Terps. Even though they look as if they're sleepwalking on defense at times, no one's dreaming right now.
This week marks the first time this season that Maryland has fallen out of the Top 25 in the Associated Press poll. With a game at North Carolina State on Sunday, they're staring in the face of a possible three-game losing streak.
Basketball is a sport in which every time on the court is an opportunity to convince the selection committee that you're worthy of the NCAA tournament. Despite what the AP poll has shown all season, Maryland hasn't proved that it's an NCAA tournament-caliber team, which makes the remainder of the schedule crucial.
The Terps have played four ranked opponents - losing to three of them. Maryland has beaten just one team with an RPI rating in the top 50 (and lost to five). It has beaten only two in the top 75 (and lost to six). Aside from Boston College, the Terps have piled up a winning record against Arkansas (59), Minnesota (99), Wake Forest (96) and Georgia Tech (126). And those are the big wins. No need to even talk about Nicholls State (235), Western Carolina (245) and VMI (305).
With a 14-6 record, the Terps have nine regular-season games remaining - four at home, five on the road. To expect an at-large berth into the tournament, the Terps probably need 18 wins. (Last year, three 18-win teams were invited to the tournament.) With more parity across the board this season, the bar could be lower than usual.
Although it sounds feasible, winning just four more games is no sure thing. Realistically, the Terps need to win three of four at home and just one on the road. With a road schedule that includes games at Clemson, Florida State and Virginia, you'd figure the Terps can find a couple of wins somewhere in there, right?
But Virginia is a team that beat North Carolina two weeks ago. And Clemson is the school that topped Maryland three times last season. And Florida State is a team that beat Clemson earlier this week (and lost by just one to the Tar Heels on Jan. 22).
There is no such thing as a guarantee around the Maryland program anymore.
Consistency is a concept that eludes these Terps. And you get the feeling that even if they could grasp the idea, they'd just turn it over.
Against a young North Carolina team, Williams had hoped for a better effort on the boards and defending the ball. His team's sloppy and uninspired play in those areas reflect the "attitude of the team," he said.
Williams should be disgusted about losing at home by 15 points. But if the rest of the season doesn't play out in a very precise manner, disgust will be an understatement by the time March rolls around.
Read Rick Maese's blog at baltimoresun.com/maeseblog