DURHAM, N.C. --- Selection Sunday sits a little more than two months in the distance, the siren for casual college basketball fans and a target for those involved in the sport on a more consistent basis.
There are resumes to be built, great wins to collect between now and then. Maryland, as was the case before its 71-64 loss at top-ranked Duke, still isn't the most accomplished bunch.
But it surely is one of the best Almost Accomplished teams in the country.
There really is no other way to slice up the Terrapins (10-5, 0-2 ACC) after they became only the third team to play Duke to single digits this season (Marquette and Michigan State are the others). There is nothing to be gleaned from analyzing and dissecting and comparing Maryland's set of victories against others, at least not yet.
They've lost to 15-0 Duke and 15-1 Pittsburgh and 13-3 Illinois and 11-3 Temple and 12-4 Boston College. The combined margin of defeat is a mere 27 points, none by double digits.
"Our guys are coming," coach Gary Williams said. "We're getting better. We're better now than we were in November. That's the key for us the rest of the way. This is a tough one out of the way. Even though we didn't get the win, I think this game can give us some positives for the rest of the year.
Maryland is virtually at the midpoint of its regular season --- 16 games remain between now and the start of the ACC tournament --- and its feats seem easy to peg. It is Team Close-But-Not-Quite, a tag players are completely aware of and determined to shed at the earliest convenience.
That nearly happened Sunday at cozy Cameron Indoor Stadium, a place Maryland absorbed drubbings of 41 and 21 points the last two years.
Both teams were destined to land in the NCAA tournament, though no one would have fathomed such an outcome in 2009. The senior-laden bunch of the next season --- led by Greivis Vasquez, who sat behind the Maryland bench Sunday with a "2010 ACC regular season champions" shirt on --- simply shrugged off the loss in Cameron and swatted the Blue Devils on their return trip to College Park.
Mike Krzyzewski's team hasn't lost since, though its winning streak (now at 25) was surely in peril when the Terps bolted to a 38-32 lead just after halftime. Maryland couldn't sustain an advantage, even as it authored its best defensive performance of the season.
Nolan Smith worked tirelessly for all of his 18 points, though his game is so well-developed he simply added eight assists and seven rebounds. The Brothers Plumlee were offensive nonfactors. Ditto Ryan Kelly. Maryland held Andre Dawkins in check until a crucial 3-pointer in the game's latter stages. The Terps swatted eight shots and disrupted enough passes with slick interior defense.
And yet ... close but not quite.
"It's real frustrating," forward Jordan Williams said. "We keep playing these top teams close and we have to get over that hump and start beating them."
Williams did his part, collecting 23 points and 13 rebounds and generally exposing the one thing Duke does not have --- the bruising interior player who can counteract the brawny sophomore. But bully for the Blue Devils: There aren't many players of Williams' ilk floating around college basketball, particularly in the ACC.
There's no fixing that modest issue (though Duke didn't effectively channel Brian Zoubek until mid-February last season, so maybe that isn't a problem), and the Blue Devils will certainly shoot better than 6-for-21 from 3-point territory on most nights. Some of that was Maryland's defense, some Duke's perimeter options struggling. Even still, both Dawkins and Kyle Singler made critical 3-pointers in the final six minutes.
Close again. And yet ...
"We came up close and lost," guard Cliff Tucker said. "We have to figure out how to get past these close games. This team is the No. 1 team in the country. They haven't lost at home in a while. We can take a lot of positives from this game for the next game and the rest of the ACC season."
The players, like anyone else, couldn't help but leave Cameron with slightly mixed feelings. The loss stunk. The repeated script stunk.
But it was progress, even if the record and the resume don't reflect it.
"We played a lot better today," Tucker said. "This is probably the best we played at Duke since I've been at Maryland. I'm real positive and we're going to stay positive and hopefully come up and get a great win against Wake Forest."
Needless to say, there would be no warm and fuzzy feelings if the Terps fell to 0-3 in the league. Understatement alert: Wake Forest is no Duke. In reality, no one else in the ACC (and maybe the country) is Duke. No one else has two players and a coach quite so accomplished as Smith and Singler and Krzyzewski.
Sunday was the toughest test Maryland would face all season, the nation's No. 1 team on its virtually impossible home floor. It stood within a basket with six minutes to play, before Duke does what it does and asphyxiated yet another opponent once the lead stretched to three possessions.
"I was proud of my team tonight," Williams said. "We came in with the intensity level necessary to compete against Duke here, and we did some good things with our offense. The best thing we did there early when we weren't making any shots is we hung in there. Our defense was good enough to keep us there until we started to make some shots. I thought we played pretty well for quite a few periods in the game."
Indeed it did. His team came close, just like it has before. It was visibly better and more capable than a month ago against Boston College, nearly two months ago against Pittsburgh.
For now, that's arguably enough. Not for much longer; Selection Sunday still looms, naturally. For Team Close-But-Not-Quite, it remains an identity until something more permanent (better or worse) eventually emerges.