Break out the brackets! Over the next four days up to Thursday’s First Four featuring Mount St. Mary’s, we’ll look at the local schools that have made the field, plus check out a different regional.
While introduction of the brackets on CBS went smoothly, sometimes the “Selection Sunday Theater” can cause discomfort. Maryland is back in the NCAA Tournament, and while they weren’t the last at-large team in the field (that honor belongs to First Four participant Drake) they were the final nonautomatic qualifier who saw their name on the bracket.
Even considering the wins against ranked foes (four, a program record) and holding their own in arguably the best conference in the country, until you see your name on the big board, you never quite know.
“Yeah it was a little stressful,” Terps Coach Mark Turgeon said. “I always felt like we were in, I think when Michigan State came up eleven there we knew we were in because we had beaten them twice.”
Coming after seeing last year’s Big Ten co-champions lose their hope for March memories due to COVID-19, being a part of the 2021 field was extra special.
“We had a couple of guys in tears, they were so happy,” Turgeon said. “It’s been an incredibly amazing year — a difficult year, but an amazing year — from 4-9 to the NCAA Tournament is pretty cool.”
The 16-13 Terps have the most losses of any at-large team, but playing in a Big Ten that boasts the most NCAA bids (nine) will blister your regular season record while preparing you for the tournament.
“The Big Ten was crazy this year, every game it felt like we were playing a ranked team,” senior guard Darryl Morsell said. “It definitely prepared us for March Madness. We’ve seen teams with great bigs, teams with great guards.”
The Terps find themselves seeded 10th in the East Region (and they’re keeping the names this year despite all four being played in the state of Indiana, usually a Midwest Regional site) features a pair of teams that took the college basketball world by surprise in No. 1 seed Michigan (Wolverines were ranked No. 25 in the preseason) and No. 2 seed Alabama (Crimson Tide weren’t ranked until mid-January). The most creative matchup has No. 3 Texas taking on in-state foe Abilene Christian.
It’s easy to see the Hoyas in the classic 12/5 upset. They played better on each successive day of the Big East Tournament, winning four games in four days, but they had also won four of six entering their week at Madison Square Garden. Saturday, they’ll face Colorado at 12:15 p.m. EDT and the last time the Buffaloes played it was in a game that began at 10:30 p.m. EST. They also get to play at Hinkle Field House, an arena they visit once a year to play Big East foe Butler (they’re 6-2 in that building, since the Bulldogs joined the conference).
Top seed Michigan has lost three of its last five games and may have lost their second-leading scorer Isaiah Livers (stress fracture to his foot) for the tournament. They’ll miss his shooting (43% from three-point range) but they’ll also miss the senior’s leadership. The Wolverines draw LSU or St. Bonaventure in the Second Round-both dangerous matchups.
Shaka Smart has his best Longhorns team since leaving VCU for the Big 12 school, and there are those who feel that league was actually superior to the Big Ten this winter (70% making the NCAA’s while 64% of the Big Ten’s 14 received bids). Senior guard Matt Coleman III is more than just a steady hand running the show (a team-high 4.1 assists per game) as the Norfolk, Virginia, native scored 30 points in the Big 12 Championship Game. On the 10th anniversary of leading the Rams from the First Four to the Final Four, Smart makes a return trip.