Sunday, March 10, 2002

The CourtMaster on Terp Frustration

Originally posted on

Hear ye, hear ye, court is now in session. I was not planning on convening a session today, but after reading the DBR's editorial titled "Apparently It's Endless", I felt my services were badly needed.

This editorial refuted a column written by Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon, in which he discussed his theories about how the ACC Tournament seemed to be rigged in favor of the North Carolina teams. He wrote how Maryland felt like an outsider, and implied that this was a factor in their history of semi-final round losses.

First, I would like to disqualify Wilbon, who is also co-host of the ESPN show "Pardon the Interruption" as an "expert" on the Maryland basketball program. This is the time of year that columnists all over the nation turn into "instant experts" about college basketball after only casually following it between NFL and NBA games along with whatever other sport is important in their region.

These columnists, of whom Wilbon is one of the best/worst examples, feel they can drop into an event and read deep meaning into it by simply breathing the air and talking to a few people. The fact that they were actually there (and Wilbon will not hesitate to run off the list of important sporting events he covers every year) qualifies them to render judgment on the causes and effects of the outcomes.

Unlike Mr. Wilbon, I have grown up living and breathing ACC basketball and, even though I have not inhaled the rarified air of the conference tournament sites, I still have a deep understanding of what goes on there.

Growing up watching the ACC Tournament in the 1970's in Maryland, I developed the type of attitude Wilbon wrote about yesterday. The only difference is that I grew out of it. I was firmly convinced after watching the Terps lose three straight championship games in the early 1970's that the key to eventually winning the tournament was to move it out of North Carolina.

My prayers were answered when the tournament moved to the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland in 1976, the first time it was ever held outside of North Carolina. I was right in expecting that a North Carolina team would not win it. The problem was, Virginia knocked off Maryland on their way to what is still their only ACC Championship. This was a Cavalier team that finished sixth in the ACC during the regular season.

It was then that I realized there might be some larger forces at work keeping Maryland from post-season success I so passionately KNEW they deserved. With the exceptions of the surprising 1984 ACC Championship (thanks largely to Duke knocking off #1 North Carolina in the semis) and last season's Final Four trip, March has been a month consistently filled with pain for Maryland faithful.

The DBR seems mystified at the negative attitude that comes from Maryland fans. Hey guys, check the record books! In recent history, the Terps have lost in the ACC semifinals seven of the last eight years. Two of those losses were in overtime to North Carolina, and one came on a last second tip in against Duke last year. Prior to last season, Maryland had lost to lower seeds in four of the prior five NCAA Tournaments.

Before breaking through last year, the Terps had made the most NCAA appearances without appearing in the Final Four. Maryland has still never been ranked #1, holding the distinction of most weeks at #2 without reaching the top ranking.

This "close but no cigar" pattern leads to a level of frustration Duke fans have no basis to understand. The DBR correctly points out that much of the 1970's were a down cycle for the Blue Devils, when Maryland and most other ACC schools regularly kicked the crap out of them.

There is a very important difference, however, between rooting for a bad team and one that is good but not great. Bad teams do not raise any level of expectations. Losses are expected, and fans hope they will end at some point in the near future. When a team shows that they clearly have the talent to excel and fall short--THAT is frustration, and one that has built up among Maryland fans for 30 years.

It started in the early 1970's, after Lefty Driesell had revived the program. The Elmore-McMillen teams lost in the finals of the ACC Tournament three straight years, including a two-point loss to undefeated NC State in 1973, and the classic 103-100 overtime loss in 1974. In 1975, the Terps won the regular season for the first time, only to fall to NC State by two points in the semis.

In 1980, Maryland came within a missed Albert King shot and an uncalled undercut by Kenny Dennard (come on, Duke fans, you know he did) of winning the tournament. More heartbreak followed Lefty in the ACC Tournament, included a one-point loss to North Carolina in the 1982 final, an overtime loss to Georgia Tech in the 1983 semi's, and a two-point loss to the Yellow Jackets in 1986 when Keith Gatlin threw a last second inbound pass to Tech's Duane Farrell, which he turned into the game winning basket.

No, Lefty could not win the big ones. So far, neither has Gary Williams. The frustration builds. I have seen that emotion passed down from generation to generation, a feeling which I think is largely responsible for the incidents of violent behavior that have occurred at College Park in recent years. I am not excusing them, mind you, just trying to provide some understanding.

No other fans in the ACC have had to deal with the constant aggravation of being close to championships without winning them. Several of Driesell's and Williams' teams had the talent to win ACC titles and contend for national ones, yet there are still only two conference championships and one Final Four appearance to show for it.

Maybe I'm just too old school for my own good, but Maryland's loss Saturday to NC State really bothered me. I guess it just piled on all of the other post-season failures, which I keep stored in a very dark place of my psyche. I know the tournament does not mean that much for the top teams anymore, but why can Duke seem to get up for it every year (four in a row and counting)? Why can Duke reach 10 Final Fours since 1978 (it's not just Coach K, Bill Foster coached the 1978 team) and not Maryland?

To claim North Carolina bias as a reason for this is silly and unsupportable. Yet, I understand why fans, and even misguided writers, do so. There has to be some discernable reason why this program can't get over the hump. For the last two seasons Maryland has had the talent and shown the ability to beat any team in the nation. Last season, it was Duke who found a way to beat the Terps in the post-season. This year, the Terps have already stumbled in the ACC Tournament. A trip down to Atlanta for the Final Four (and a couple of wins) would go a long way toward changing the karma surrounding the Maryland basketball program.

Up to this point, however, it has been frustrating as hell. I don't expect Duke fans to understand, but I hope this at least helps.

Congratulations to Duke on winning the ACC Tournament. A Maryland-Duke rubber match in Atlanta would certainly be worth waiting for.

That's what I think. Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at


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