Ahead of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, Maryland is focusing on returning to form.
For the second season in a row, the Terrapins are entering March Madness on the heels of a defeat in the Big Ten tournament title game. Last year, a loss to Ohio State left a bitter taste in their mouth and resulted in a second-round exit at the hands of North Carolina State. This time around, the Terps were demolished by Megan Gustafson-led Iowa to cap off the conference season. It was the second lost to the Hawkeyes this season, and it likely cost the Terps a chance at a No. 2 seed in the tournament.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “When you come that close and not to be able to cut down the net. There was a lot of valuable lessons that we continue to learn, and to be able to grow to improve to get ready for the NCAAs.”
While the last game entering Selection Monday held the same result, this Terps team is much different than the one a year ago. For starters, Maryland will be seeded much more favorably this time around. After travelling to Raleigh as a No. 5 seed last year, the Big Ten regular-season champions will most likely be a top-12 seed in the field, allowing them to host a pair of games in the opening weekend of the tournament.
Of the Terrapins’ four losses this season, only one came at home. At Xfinity Center, they have a 14-1 record and average a plus-18.9 scoring margin per contest. In the craziness that is March, home-court advantage in the first two rounds is critical.
“It’s very important for us to get one of the top four seeds,” Frese said. “We saw that last year when we had to go on the road. To be able to stay home in front of the greatest fans in the country and sleep in your own beds, we feel like is a tremendous advantage we’re able to have in the tournament.”
“It’s great to have that home crowd there, being at home,” junior wing Kaila Charles said. “You have the comfort. Just having that opportunity to play home for two more games is a great blessing and I’m glad we’re able to do that.”
Maryland will also have the added benefit of having Blair Watson back on the court. She missed the entire postseason last year after tearing her ACL, and while her scoring has dipped from 13.8 points per game to 8.6, the junior is still a vital part of this team.
“It’s exciting, because this year I got to play in my first Big Ten tournament and now I’m going on to play in the NCAAs,” Watson said (she actually played 16 minutes in the 2017 tournament). “I’m glad I got the opportunity and I came back as fast as I did to be able to play with my team and get out there and show what I got.”
Where will the Terrapins go for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, should they get there? We’ll have to wait until Monday night to find out. They’ll be slated in one of four regions: Chicago, Greensboro, Portland or Albany.
ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme currently has the Terrapins slated in Chicago with No. 1-seed Notre Dame and No. 2-seed Stanford, facing Sun Belt winner Arkansas-Little Rock in the first round. Chi-Town is right in the middle of Big Ten country, so that could be a natural fit.
Should the Terps find their way unscathed through four tournament games, they’d then take a trip down to Tampa, Florida, for the Final Four. The last time Maryland was in the national semifinals was back in 2015, where it lost to Connecticut, which won the title, in Tampa. The year before that, the Terrapins fell to Notre Dame, which lost in the title game to UConn, in Nashville, Tennessee.
Nobody knows how this postseason will unfold. The Terps have looked elite at times, and they’ve been maddeningly inconsistent at others. A Final Four could be in store, and so could an early knockout. One thing is for sure, and that is the path to glory will be revealed at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
“The body of work has been done,” Frese said. “Really, it’s up to the selection committee at this time. From our 28 wins, we’ve put in the work and now, for us, we’re just excited to see the bracket, the other teams that will be in that bracket and then getting ready to be the most prepared team.”
“We’re just hungry,” Charles said. “We’re ready to play again. We’re ready to get back on the court and hopefully go as far as we possibly can in the tournament.”