For the second straight season, Maryland women’s basketball enters the NCAA Tournament coming off a loss in the Big Ten title game. But after last year’s Terps didn’t have enough on their resume to earn a top-16 seed, this season’s body of work was much improved, and Maryland was rewarded for its efforts.
The Terrapins received a No. 3 seed in the Albany Region of the bracket, making them one of the best 12 teams in the nation. They’re slated to face No. 14-seed Radford, winners of the Big South conference, on Saturday at 11 a.m. on ESPN2.
While the team hasn’t had time to prep for the Highlanders just yet, head coach Brenda Frese knows that a mid-major team is usually very different from a power-conference opponent.
“Usually style of play [is the biggest discrepancy],” Frese said. “Oftentimes, they might be a four-out, one-in offense where they might not have the size, but they have a lot of shooters. They might have more dribble-drive. You kind of have to wait and see.”
As a top-four seed, Maryland will host the first two rounds of the tournament, which is a huge benefit to kick off March Madness. And according to Frese, that was the team’s goal after the experience in Raleigh, North Carolina, a year ago, where the Terps were overwhelmed by NC State on the road in the second round.
“It was a big-picture goal of ours, after last year having to leave College Park,” Frese said. “Now being able to host, you get to keep your daily routine, you get to sleep in your own bed, and you get to play in front of the best fans in the country. So for us, that’s something we don’t take for granted.”
Maryland’s draw includes several interesting potential matchups. If the Terps beat Radford and the winner of UCLA/Tennessee, they’ll head to Albany to most likely face powerhouse No. 2-seed Connecticut. The region’s other top teams are No. 1-seed Louisville, coached by former Maryland assistant Jeff Walz, and No. 4-seed Oregon State, which features former Terps point guard Destiny Slocum. But the team knows it has to stay focused on Radford and go from there.
Of course, the excitement and joy surrounding Selection Monday’s festivities was shot down early. At 3:39 p.m. ET, the bracket was accidentally released on ESPNU’s bracketology program, and some viewers were cerebral enough to pick up on what was going on. By 3:51, the entire bracket was on Twitter for anyone and everyone to see. The NCAA didn’t plan to release the tournament field until 7 p.m. on ESPN, but with the entire world privy to the information, it decided to “officially” release it at 5 p.m. on ESPN2.
While the release spoiled some of the fun, it could actually be somewhat of a blessing in disguise because the opponent is known earlier.
“It allows our staff to get an earlier jump on scouting,” Frese said. “It’s unfortunate what happened, but at the end of the day we found out we’re hosting and we’ll be playing in College Park.”
Still, the early release was somewhat of a downer for the players who wanted a fun reveal after a full season of hard work.
“I’ve never heard of anything like that happening,” freshman center Shakira Austin said. “I think it’s pretty bizarre, honestly. At the end of the day, we still made the tournament, so that’s all that matters.”
“We found out maybe 20 minutes before,” junior forward Stephanie Jones said. “It kinda sucks that you don’t get the full experience of the whole Selection Show, but at this point we’re just ready to play the schedule.”
The mistake ruined schools’ watch parties, where fans are invited to mingle with the team as it finds out its fate for the next three weeks. Despite the change in the schedule, Maryland still held an event for fans to support the team and show their love for the women’s basketball program. And the die-hards still came out in full force.
“It speaks volumes that our fans would still come,” Frese said. “You knew they knew the bracket, but they want to come out and really support this team.”
Selection Monday proved to be a hectic day that was entirely unpredictable. But now, the path is set for Maryland to prove it can accomplish whatever it sets its mind to.
“I’m just excited,” Austin said. “I waited a long time for this moment. We’re blessed to be able to participate in the tournament. We just need to do what we need to do and come home with a championship.”