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In just 43 days, a day marked on every college basketball player and coach's calendar will finally arrive. Selection Sunday, set for March 13, when five months worth of hard-fought battles come down to one question: Are you in or are you out?
For the players and fans in College Park, the post-season is a regularity, almost a given year in and year out. Maryland has reached the post-season 17 straight years, reaching the second round of the N.C.A.A. Tournament in the past two appearances. But at 13-7 in a mediocre Atlantic Coast Conference, the future appears cloudier than usual.
Only Duke is ranked among ACC teams, as North Carolina has faltered from pre-season expectations and the rest of the conference seems to be hovering around similar records. The N.C.A.A. Selection Committee likely will consider that when determining how many teams from the ACC will be invited to The Big Dance. In other words, it's make or break time for the Terps .
After withholding a second half rally at home last weekend against Clemson, senior guard Adrian Bowie told me that he, along with fellow seniors Dino Gregory and Cliff Tucker, approached the team about the sense of urgency they want to play with if they want to make The Tournament. Bowie said he never wants to have to settle for a trip to the N.I.T. like he did in his freshman season.
The team has since responded to the seniors' message, winning both games over Clemson and on the road against Virginia. In those victories, Maryland has shot 52 percent from the floor and from beyond the arc, compared to the season averaged of 48 percent and 34 percent.
Whether the Terps can maintain this momentum down a crucial stretch of games in February and March is still a question though. After traveling to Atlanta to face off against another team in desperation, Georgia Tech, the team has seven opportunities to add their share of signature wins to their post-season resume.
Those games – hosting North Carolina State, Florida State and a rematch with Duke, and travelling to Miami, North Carolina, as well as Virginia Tech and Boston College to try and even those season series. This season Maryland is just 3-2 on the road, with one win coming against 7-13 Wake Forest.
Maryland's win over Clemson remains the team's most impressive victory to this point in the season. And although the team remained competitive and held leads in contests against ranked foes in Pittsburgh, Illinois, Duke and Villanova, the inability to finish those games is all the Selection Committee sees. No. 3 Duke is the only ranked opponent on the team's remaining schedule.
So with just over a month to make a statement on their post-season aspirations, the Terps will have to make the most out what is left. That means becoming road warriors and of course defending their home turf. It means not allowing slip-ups against inferior foes like the Demon Deacons and Longwood, and stepping up to the challenge of Duke.
The road begins Sunday night in Atlanta with a 7:45 tip-off with the Yellow Jackets. The team will then return to the Comcast Center for three straight games, including that primetime rivalry game with the Blue Devils.