In a previous story, we took a look at the NCAA Tournament's top seeds. But what about the home team? What can Terrapins fans expect? Well, you probably know by now that the Terps will open up against the winners of the Patriot League Tournament, the Army Black Knights. We'll take a detailed look at Army in another story later this week. For now, suffice it to say that at 14-4 Army finished second to Navy in the Patriot League regular season but won their conference tourney to gain the NCAA bid. The Black Knights come into Maryland with a 25-7 record overall.
Let's assume the Terps get past Army in the first game on Sunday. They'd then face a second round match-up with the winner of the game between fifth seeded Texas out of the Big 12 and the Ivy League Champion Penn Quakers who are seeded twelfth. Again, we'll take an in depth look at Maryland's opponent when the game is set. But here are a few facts to get you thinking.
The second round
Penn won the Ivy League finishing 12-2 a game ahead of second place Harvard but if momentum has any impact, then Texas will face a challenge. The Quakers opened the season dropping their first two games including a 22 point loss at the hands of Notre Dame. They followed their loss to the Irish with eight straight wins before falling to Princeton in their league opener. That contest was the first of three consecutive losses as Villanova and then St. Joe's then defeated the Quakers. However, since that loss to St. Joe's in mid-January, the Quakers have won fourteen of their last fifteen games including the last five. Their only loss in this stretch came when they fell three points short at Dartmouth a month ago.
As for the Longhorns, they will enter the tournament coming off a loss in the Big 12 semi-final to West Virginia a squad that earned a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Texas finished 21-11 overall and 11-7 in their conference to tie for third place with Oklahoma State. Like Maryland, Texas has one conference road loss to a team that failed to reach the Big Dance. The Terps' loss came at Virginia while the Longhorns' fell at TCU. Lest fans take Texas lightly because of their eleven regular season losses, I should point out that the Longhorns' three non-conference losses came to Stanford, Syracuse, and at Tennessee. As for the Big 12, they put six teams in the Tournament - one more than Maryland's home next season, the B1G - with Baylor joining WVU as a two seed out of the Big 12.
The regional - Sweet Sixteen and beyond
Maryland is the higher seed in the first two rounds and they do have a home court advantage so let's march them further down the road to Nashville in what two ESPN analysts, Graham Hayes and Charlie Creme, labeled the toughest region. The Terps will have to transit through Louisville where their likely opponent in the Sweet Sixteen would be the top-seeded Tennessee Volunteers.
After finishing second to South Carolina in the SEC regular season, the Vols come into the NCAA as the SEC Tournament champs. If the seedings hold, Tennessee will hav e a relatively short trip up I-65 to Louisville. They will bring with them their rabid fan base and a nine game winning streak. I know most Maryland fans let out a sigh of relief when the Terps were sent to a region away from Connecticut's but the Louisville region might prove to be a case of "be careful what you wish for." The 27-5 Volunteers suffered only two losses outside of their conference. The first was by six points at Stanford back in December and the second was a late January loss to Notre Dame in Nashville.
For now, let's keep drinking the Kool-Aid and say the Terps make it past Tennessee and into the Elite Eight. Maryland's two likely foes are either the second seeded, 29-4, West Virginia Mountaineers or the third seeded, 30-4, Louisville Cardinals who will be playing on their home floor in front of a fan base nearly as large and every bit as rabid as Tennessee's.
If it's West Virginia, the Terps would be facing their second Big 12 foe in a week. The Mountaineers lost their first game of the season to a team the Terps defeated - Ohio State. Since then, their only losses are to Baylor twice with the most recent being a three point loss in the Big 12 Conference Tournament Championship game. The other loss was another three point game at Texas back in January.
As for the Cardinals, the only one of their four losses that didn't come at the hands of the UConn Huskies happened on December 1 in a six point loss at Kentucky. At the NCAA selection show I heard some Maryland fans scoff at Louisville's relatively weak schedule. Well, it's true the Cardinals didn't always face the most challenging opposition. The schedule strength was rated fifty-first in the NCAA. But to those skeptical Maryland fans, I point out that the Terrapins' schedule, coming out of a much stronger conference, was ranked only slightly better at forty eighth. And should the game come to pass, Louisville will have the home court advantage.
As the teams prepare to tip off, keep this in mind: If there is a Final Four in Maryland's future this season, it will be hard earned trip to Nashville. Many obstacles lie in the way and the trip begins with Army on Sunday.