by Alexander Lee/Pressbox The Maryland men’s basketball team entered this season with lofty expectations, and the Terps have their work cut out for them if they want to fulfill them. The Terps found out on Selection Sunday that they earned a five seed in the loaded South Region of the NCAA tournament and will take on 12-seed South Dakota State in Spokane, Wash., at 4:30 p.m. March 18.
Maryland’s first-round matchup will tip after the conclusion of four-seed California and 13-seed Hawaii at Spokane Arena, the same floor on which Maryland lost to Michigan State at the buzzer during the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament. If the Terps can get past the Jackrabbits, they’ll have a chance to exorcise those demons against the Cal-Hawaii winner March 20. Maryland hasn’t made it out of the first weekend since 2003.
“It’s a long trip,” said head coach Mark Turgeon, who added that the team is likely to head west March 16. “Sometimes it’s good to get away. I feel bad for our fans. I’m sure a lot of them were hoping we’d be in Providence [R.I.] or New York.”
Things could start to get really hairy should Maryland reach the Sweet 16. The South Region includes Kansas, the No. 1 overall seed in the entire tournament. It also contains UConn, a nine seed that looks poised for another run after winning its conference tournament. If Maryland gets to the Elite Eight, two-seed Villanova, three-seed Miami, six-seed Arizona or seven-seed Iowa could stand between it and the Final Four. Those South Region games would take place in Louisville, Ky.
While they’re likely to be a solid favorite March 18, the Terps might have their hands full with South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits won the Summit League for the third time in five years, which means they’ve qualified for the NCAA tournament more times than Maryland has during that stretch. They’ve never won a tournament game (0-2), but they’re led by three senior guards and redshirt freshman big Mike Daum, who averages 15.2 points in 20.5 minutes per game.
The dangers of the five-twelve matchup are well documented. Twelve seeds have won 34.3 percent of the time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, hardly an imposing statistic. However, that number inflates to 42.8 percent during the past 14 years. Four times during those 14 years, three of the four 12-seeds won in round one. The Terps were lucky enough to see the Jackrabbits firsthand this season, as both teams participated in the Cancun Challenge.
“We got to see them play a couple times down there,” Turgeon said. “They were terrific. They’re a well-coached team with a lot of balance to them. Like any game in the NCAA tournament, it will be a really tough one.”
Both Maryland and South Dakota State defeated Illinois State and Cleveland State during the Cancun Challenge. The Terps prevailed by a combined 28 points, while the Jackrabbits won by a combined 27, respectively. Also, South Dakota State cruised past Minnesota, 84-70, on the road, while Maryland suffered perhaps its worst loss of the season in Minneapolis.
Most bracket projections had Maryland as a four-seed as the conference tournaments wound down. Once the dust settled March 13, it appears the NCAA selection committee didn’t think too highly of the Big Ten. Michigan State received a two seed despite the No. 2 ranking in the country. Indiana’s 15-3 record in conference earned them a mere five seed. Purdue’s 26 wins got them a five. Iowa, once a top-five team, received a seven seed. Wisconsin (seven seed) and Michigan (eleven seed) rounded out the Big Ten qualifiers.
“You could tell early on that it was about the Big 12 and the Pac 12, and the Big Ten was probably going to be a seed lower,” Turgeon said. “I think everyone in the Big Ten was a seed lower than we thought we were going to be.”
Maryland has been a five seed three times. The first time was 1985, when it fell to eventual champ Villanova during the Sweet 16. The next year, the Terps were a five again but lost to UNLV in the second round. In 1997, the Terps were upset during the first round by 12-seed College of Charleston. Overall, Maryland has lost in the second round in five straight trips to the NCAAs. This week, the Terps will try to avoid making it six.
“Our guys are excited. We went through the matchups,” Turgeon said. “We hung around [South Dakota State] in Cancun, so we know each other pretty well. And then Hawaii is a heck of a team. They won their league. They almost beat Oklahoma earlier this year. Cal is a really talented, well-coached team. We just talked about those teams. We will play two of those three hopefully.”
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