Saturday, March 01, 2008

Why Maryland vs. Clemson Matters

The Maryland men's basketball team will play an important game Sunday night, the kind that may define their season. Win, and they will likely go to the NCAA tournament. Lose, and they likely will not.

Other factors will weigh in the matter of course. Specifically, how the Terps perform in their contest at UVa and in the ACC tournament. But if you ask me, this Clemson game is an appropriate barometer for the tournament worthiness of the 2007-2008 Terps.

Why? Here are my reasons:
Clemson is a very good team having a solid season. They are 20-7, 8-5, and have won 6 of 8 entering the game.

I wrote earlier this year that the good news after Maryland lost to American and Ohio AT HOME, was that they play in the ACC, and they'll get plenty of opportunities to right the ship by winning games against top competition. Well, this is the last game against an acknowledged "good team" left in the regular season.

Next Sunday at UVa doesn't count, unfortunately. The Cavs ARE a dangerous team and have an NBA quality player in Sean Singletary, but facts is facts, and the fact is that the Hoos are currently 3-10 in the ACC. Beating them won't help nearly as much as losing will hurt.

So in to Comcast comes Clemson, led by coach Oliver Purnell, a one time Lefty Driesell assistant at Maryland, who has done nothing but win in stints at ODU, Dayton, and Clemson.

He is as solid as they come, with a great track record, albeit under the radar. To date, Purnell has coached teams where just reaching the NCAA tournament means a successful season. Now he's trying to make some noise in the tournament with a very talented club. Don't think Purnell ans his team don't want this one badly.

And Maryland must stand up to this challenge and win if it is to be deemed worthy of an at-large selection to the field of 65. Why? Because the tournament does not exist to reward decent teams for decent seasons. No, it exists to identify the best team, the national champion.

Of course, it doesn't always work out that way. Once in a while, an upstart team with double-digit losses makes it to the Final Four, or even wins the whole thing. Teams like Danny Manning's 1988 Kansas Jayhawks were 21-11 entering the tournament, then went on to run the table. Jim Valvano's 1985 N.C. State team caught a similar bolt of lightning in a bottle.

More often than not, however, the team that wins six straight in March and early April does so after an inspired season with five or less losses; a team like the 2002 Terps, who went 32-4 to win the whole deal.

Yet the season before, a 10-loss Maryland team made the Final Four.

Why is any of this relevant? Well, I think teams that deserve at-large bids are teams that display during the course of a season, on a regular basis, that they could go to the Final Four. Not that they will or that they should, but that they could.

And if Maryland cannot beat Clemson at home, when it is as obvious as the Fro on Osby's head that they must win, then they really aren't deserving of an at large bid.

Just one guy's opinion. As Dennis Miller says, I could be wrong.

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