As he sat up at the podium for his post-game press conference, as seen on CSN, Gary Williams said there was a lot of good to find in Maryland's 71-64 loss at No. 1 Duke.
And he's right. The Terps fared much better than many expected, and failed simply because they didn't have an answer for Kyle Singler. Most teams don't, so Maryland should not feel like the sky is falling. There was a lot of good to take out of this loss.
But there was also a lot of good to take out of the three-point loss to Temple ... and the four-point loss to No. 20 Illinois ... and the tight loss to No. 5 Pittsburgh. At the end of the day, the Terps lost all those games and don't have any signature wins on their resume. Time is running out to pick up those victories.
Here is where the weakness of the ACC may hurt the Terps. The league was supposed to be better this season, but the struggles of teams like North Carolina and Virginia Tech have been a problem. Duke is the only ACC team ranked in the latest AP Top 25 poll, and the rest of the league looks like a mess from there. Maryland probably cannot count on getting their signature win against any other ACC team.
So realistically, there are just two opportunities left on the schedule. One is the rematch with Duke on February 2. The other is on Saturday, when Maryland travels to Philadelphia to take on No. 7 Villanova. At 14-1, Villanova is a force, and playing them in Philly may be a tougher test than any one Maryland has faced this year (other than Duke, of course). Winning one of the earlier tests may have made a loss more understandable. Now, though, the Terps may need a win in that game for their NCAA Tournament resume.
The good news for Maryland is that this may be shaping up a lot like last year. Maryland entered ACC play a mediocre 9-4, having missed chances to pick up wins over Cincinnati, Villanova and Wisconsin. They then proceeded to go 13-3 in the league and got a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With the way the ACC is right now, that could happen again.
But even if it does, the margin for error is very small. Maryland doesn't have a world of time for the law of averages to even out and give them good fortune in tight games. They don't have a lot of time to fix their free-throw shooting woes and find someone who can make a play when the game gets tight. That's what happens when you come up just short in four key early-season tests.