Maryland men’s basketball earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, being selected as an eight seed in the South region. The Terps will face No. 9-seed West Virginia in the round of 64 in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday. Tipoff is set for 12:15 p.m. on CBS, making Thursday’s game the first of the round of 64.
West Virginia, led by Hall of Famer Bob Huggins, earned a nine seed after going 19-14 and 7-11 in the Big 12. The Mountaineers rank No. 17 in KenPom.com’s rankings. South Carolina transfer Erik Stevenson is West Virginia’s leading scorer, averaging 15.5 points per game and shooting 38.1% from deep. Texas transfer big Tre Mitchell (11.6 points per game), guard Kedrian Johnson (11.2 points per game) and fifth-year Emmitt Matthews (10.4 points per game) all average double figures as well.
Maryland lost to the Mountaineers in the round of 32 of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, 69-59. That was the last meeting between the two teams.
The Terps had a successful season, going 21-12 overall and 11-9 in Big Ten play. Not much was expected of Maryland in year one of the Kevin Willard era, as it was projected to finish 10th in the Big Ten in the unofficial preseason media poll. The team shattered expectations, though, posting a perfect 10-0 record in home conference games and finishing in a tie for fifth place in the Big Ten. Maryland is one of eight Big Ten teams to make the “Big Dance,” tied with the SEC for the most teams of any conference in the bracket.
Maryland posted strong metrics this season, ranking No. 31 in the NET, No. 22 in KenPom and No. 20 in ESPN’s BPI heading into Selection Sunday. The Terps have three impressive quadrant one wins on their resume, which include a 14-point home win vs. Purdue, a 13-point home win vs. Indiana and an 18-point neutral-floor win over ACC regular-season champion Miami. A 6-2 record in quadrant two games and zero losses outside of the first two quadrants allowed the Terps to seal their fate weeks before the bracket was revealed.
Maryland’s best player this season was graduate point guard Jahmir Young, who transferred from Charlotte and was selected to the All-Big Ten second team. Young, the first player from nearby DeMatha Catholic High School to play for the Terps since Travis Garrison wrapped up his career in 2006, leads Maryland in points per game (16.1), assists per game (3.2) and steals per game (1.3).
“Just a lot of emotions,” Young said. “Just working for this for four years. I’m a senior now, and just being able to get here, it’s like a dream come true. So I’m just excited to be able to play with these guys.”
Seniors Hakim Hart and Donta Scott reaped the benefits of sticking around under Willard and will play in their second NCAA Tournament. Both Hart and Scott average 11.5 points per game, while Hart averages the most minutes played on the team with 32.7 per game.
Sophomore forward Julian Reese took big strides under the new coaching staff this season, averaging 11.2 points and a team-leading 7.3 rebounds per game. Reese scored at least 10 points in 11 of the Terps’ last 12 games and compiled seven double-doubles this season. Each of Reese, Hart and Scott were named All-Big Ten honorable mentions.
“Going into the tournament I’m looking forward to the competition, how they’re different, like seeing the different competition in different conferences,” Reese said. “Seeing the physicality and guys playing ... especially at my position. And I’m excited to see how far our team can go, and how our team adjusts to new environments and new officiating, different refs. I feel like with that it will help us, help our growth and help us as a team overall.”
The Terps’ final starter is Georgetown transfer two-guard Don Carey. Carey had received plenty of criticism for his poor 3-point shooting, but he is playing his best basketball when it matters most. Carey has scored 10-plus points in the last six games and is shooting 48.5% from deep during that span.
The Terps’ first two players off the bench are junior guard Ian Martinez and graduate forward Patrick Emilien. Martinez improved vastly from last season, posting 5.8 points per game and shooting 43.1% from three. Emilien, a transfer from St. Francis (NY), has been a more-than-serviceable spark as a backup big despite being just 6-foot-7. Junior guard Jahari Long plays spot minutes at point guard as the team’s eighth man.
Maryland’s biggest downfall this season was its 2-9 road record, with its only away wins coming at Minnesota (KenPom No. 217) and Louisville (KenPom No. 295). The Terps fared well on neutral courts, going 3-2 in games in New York, Chicago and Uncasville, Connecticut. The Terps’ most recent game was a 70-60 loss to Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
This is Willard’s sixth NCAA Tournament as head coach and first with Maryland. This is the third time his team has been selected as an eight seed. Willard is 1-5 in NCAA Tournament games in his career.
“If you count the COVID year where they canceled, I’ve been in the tournament seven out of the last eight years,” Willard said. “So, again, I look at this much more as the guys that haven’t experienced the NCAA Tournament. And really for this team, I mean, they, these kids bought into our culture, they bought into our style. They came in, I’ve said it all along, they’ve been one of the best teams to coach because they have a great attitude and they work hard. So, again, for them to get that reward. For those guys like Jahmir Young coming here and being a huge catalyst but not, it wasn’t guaranteed we were gonna make the NCAA Tournament, for him to come in here and get that I think it’s tremendous.”