We’re just over 24 hours away from Maryland men’s basketball’s return to the NCAA Tournament after a one year hiatus. It is Kevin Willard’s first tournament appearance in his first year as Maryland’s head coach. Maryland was awarded the eighth seed in the south region and will take on No. 9-seed West Virginia in the round of 64.
Maryland and West Virginia’s matchup is featured as the first game of the round of 64, which will tip off at 12:15 on CBS.
Maryland and West Virginia did not play this season and haven't since 2015, when they met in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia was victorious, ending Maryland’s campaign that year.
Maryland has the chance to return the favor eight years later. West Virginia plays in the Big 12 and finished four games below .500 in conference play this season, but it still earned an at-large bid because of the depth and talent of the conference.
This is Willard’s sixth NCAA Tournament appearance as a head coach and his third time leading his team to an eight seed. Willard is 1-5 all time in the NCAA Tournament.
West Virginia is favored by two points, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
West Virginia (19-14, 7-11 Big 12)
Head coach Bob Huggins has the fourth-most all-time wins in men’s college basketball. Huggins was recently inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and is considered a legend in the business. He has been at West Virginia since 2007 and the 69-year-old has two Final Four appearances — one at Cincinnati in 1992 and one at West Virginia in 2010. He has amassed a 34-24 record in 25 tournaments.
This year, West Virginia had a solid nonconference run to start the season but started conference play 0-5. It looked unlikely it would qualify for the Big Dance. But the Mountaineers won seven of their final 13 games to finish 7-11 in a grueling Big 12. West Virginia’s strength of schedule bolstered its resume given how difficult of a conference schedule it faced.
Players to know
Erik Stevenson, fifth-year guard, 6-foot-4, No. 10 — Stevenson is undoubtedly West Virginia’s best player. The South Carolina transfer has had a profound impact on the Mountaineers in his lone year in Morgantown. He is West Virginia’s leading scorer at 15.5 points per game. Many of his points come from beyond the arc, where he’s shooting 38%. He is the Mountaineers’ biggest scoring and shooting threat.
Tre Mitchell, senior forward, 6-foot-9, No. 3 — Mitchell is a versatile forward who can score in a variety of ways. He is West Virginia’s second-leading scorer at 11.6 points per game and also its leading rebounder. Mitchell is capable of scoring inside, but can also step out and knock down triples at a high rate.
Kedrian Johnson, fifth-year guard, 6-foot-3, No. 0 — Johnson runs the show offensively for West Virginia. He is the team’s third-leading scorer and is a lethal driver. He leads the team in assists. He’s struggled shooting the three-ball this season, but is still a threat from distance.
Balanced scoring. West Virginia has one of the most prolific offenses in the country that averages 76 points per game. It has long been known for its toughness and rebounding ability, and while that remains true with this group, this team’s identity is its offensive prowess. That comes from a balanced scoring attack that features four players who average double figures.
Defending cutters. West Virginia allows a whopping 1.341 points per possession on play types involving cutters, according to Synergy. The more movement on offense, the more West Virginia’s defenders get lost. Look for Maryland to have a ton of off-ball movement to exploit the Mountaineers’ defense.
Three things to watch
1. Rebounding battle. West Virginia is a great offensive rebounding team. It ranked fourth in the Big 12 in total offensive rebounds. Maryland had varied success limiting physical Big Ten teams on the glass, but it will be paramount Maryland’s entire team crashes the glass against West Virginia on Thursday.
2. West Virginia’s transition offense vs. Maryland’s transition defense. Maryland’s transition defense has been horrible in recent weeks, and that shined through in its latest loss to Indiana. West Virginia, on the other hand, relies on transition offense for a lot of its baskets. If Maryland is going to stop West Virginia, its transition defense needs to improve.
3. How will West Virginia defend Jahmir Young? Jahmir Young has flourished as the ball handler in pick-and-roll action, but as more tape is out there on him, teams have started to be more aggressive with hard hedges and blitzes in their pick-and-roll coverage. Young’s efficiency and scoring output has suffered as a result. In both of Maryland’s Big Ten Tournament games, there were times Young struggled with the physicality. If Maryland is going to make any sort of run, Young will have to bring out his best, aggressive self in his first NCAA Tournament.