ACC Tournament Blues

The Golden Anniversary edition of the Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball Tournament is now behind us. The experience was anything but golden for the Maryland Terrapins, however. A more appropriate symbol would be brick, which represents the Terps' shooting woes in their 84-72 first round loss to North Carolina.

There have now been 50 ACC Tournaments, and Maryland has lost 48 of them.  A statistician would call their 96% failure rate a trend.  An odds maker would call it a mortal lock.

Maryland has known some level of success in this postseason affair.  Under Coach Lefty Driesell, they won the 1984 tournament and advanced to the final five other times.  They also won the firth annual competition back in 1958.  If you are my age or younger, that means that the Terps have won this tournament once in your lifetime.  That number now amazingly matches the school's number of National Championships during that time.

Gary Williams has accomplished many things as Maryland's head coach, but success in the ACC Tournament is not one of them.  In 13 tournaments (Maryland was ineligible in 1991 thanks to Bob Wade's violations) William's Terps have complied a record of only 11-13.  Two of those wins came in the dreaded "play-in" games in 1992 and 1993.

Maryland has reached only the final of the ACC Tournament once under Williams, where they lost to Duke in 2000.  Under his leadership, Maryland has defeated a higher seed twice, both times as a #5 seed beating a #4 seed.  Conversely, they have lost to a lower seed five times, including four of the last seven years.

Why can't a team that reaches back-to-back Final Fours not even get to it's own conference championship game?  We know it is not coaching or talent; teams lacking in those areas don't go far in the NCAA Tournament.  Perhaps it is attitude.

The chip that Gary Williams carries proudly on his shoulder has served him and the Maryland basketball program well in many ways.  His "us against the world" approach has helped him develop the strong work ethic and toughness that his Terrapin teams are known for.  It appears to be a pothole on the road to success in the ACC Tournament, however.

Williams has been very candid in recent years about what little importance he places on the ACC Tournament.  He also cites the frequency of it being held in North Carolina as yet another example of the conference's bias toward the North Carolina schools (there is undoubtedly some truth to this). 

Perhaps Williams is aggravated that 11 of his 13 losses there have been to Duke, North Carolina, or NC State (he has plenty of company among Maryland fans there).  Maybe he misses the old days (prior to 1975) when the tournament champion received the conference's only spot in the NCAA Tournament.  It could be that his 0-3 record as a Maryland player still bothers him.  More likely, it is a combination of these factors that influence his obvious distaste for the ACC's annual post-season festivities.

I know many Maryland fans that share Williams' view of the perceived handicap Maryland and the other schools outside North Carolina face when the ACC Tournament is held in Greensboro or Charlotte. History, however, does not back that up. 

The tournament has been held outside North Carolina seven times, four in Atlanta, three in Landover, Maryland at the old Capital Centre.  Teams from outside Carolina have won two of them.  By comparison, North Carolina schools have won 7 of the 43 events held inside the state.  This shows an advantage for the home state, but not a huge one.

If the location of the post-season tournament is so critical, why hasn't St. John's or Seton Hall won the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden more often?

Most of the time, teams with the most talent, best coaching, and the strongest focus win these events.  Maryland has had plenty of the first two going for them in recent years but appears to lack the latter. 

For my final point, let me cut close to the bone.  Terps fans with thick wallets pay big bucks to the Terrapin Club with a primary motivation of obtaining tickets to the ACC Tournament.   Obviously, they think this is an important event. 

How does Duke, with their three national championships and ten Final Four trips under Coach K approach the conference tournament?  The numbers speak for themselves.  In the last five years, Duke has won all five ACC Tournaments.  Maryland has won none and lost both head-to-head contests with the Blue Devils. 

If Maryland truly aspires to usurp Duke as the premier basketball program in the conference and properly reward it's major financial supports, they need to even those numbers out.

It all starts with attitude, and attitude starts at the top.

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