The Maryland boys’ basketball playoffs kick off Tuesday, signaling the start of the annual march toward the state tournament at Comcast Center. This year, the opening round of region play also ends what has been an unprecedented, marathon wait for many teams since the end of the regular season.
To keep the state tournament on campus at the University of Maryland, where it has been held each season since the MPSSAA began sanctioning the event in 1947, state officials had to move the dates back a week this year and in turn, spread the tournament out over an extended period.
While the girls’ tournament, which began Friday, will culminate with the state finals on March 9, the boys’ finals will be played on March 16. Most area boys’ teams were forced to wait at least a week between their final regular season game and the start of playoffs and some much longer.
“I know a lot of people aren’t happy about it, but what can you do?” Springbrook Coach Tom Crowell said. “You try your best to keep your team as sharp as possible. In some ways, it’s been a plus for us, but if you have a healthy team on a roll, I think it could be a distraction.”
Springbrook, which travels to Baltimore on Tuesday to play Mergenthaler in a Maryland 4A North matchup, only had a week between games. Like many in Montgomery County, the Blue Devils played their final regular season game last Tuesday, but most leagues try to fit all their regular season games in before the state draw, which occurred along with the girls’ draw on Feb. 17.
Crowell still took his team to Long Reach on Friday evening to practice with the Lightning, just to get on the court with a different group of players during the break. Defending Maryland 4A champion Magruder welcomed Urbana from Frederick County down for a similar workout session and others around the area did the same.
The hiatus stretched an extra week for some teams in Prince George’s County, which wrapped up the regular season on Feb. 14.
The league champions, Potomac (Md.) and Eleanor Roosevelt, played for the county title last Wednesday, and after the sixth-ranked Raiders beat the Wolverines on Malachi Alexander’s game-winning dunk, Coach Brendan O’Connell likened the eight days before the team’s playoff opener to training camp.
The five other county squads that earned first-round byes will have endured a 14-day layoff when they return to action on Thursday.
“It’s been tough trying to keep guys’ heads into it,” said DuVal Coach Lafayette Dublin, whose team earned the No. 2 seed and a bye in the Maryland 4A South. “Rest is always good, but with two or three days off, you start to get out of basketball shape that fast. I’ve just been trying to keep practices as competitive as I can.”
As an annual guest at the College Park campus, the MPSSAA was forced to work around the university’s schedule. The organization has traditionally rented the facility when the Terrapins are out of town at the ACC tournament, which this season is being played March 14-17 in Greensboro, N.C. Comcast Center is also hosting the conference’s wrestling tournament at Comcast on March 9, the day the girls’ finals will be played at UMBC in Catonsville.
Ned Sparks, the MPSSAA’s executive director, said the organization realized the scheduling issue shortly after last season’s tournament and began discussing its options for where to hold the tournament and what schedule to follow. The revised dates were approved during a meeting of the MPSSAA’s Board of Control last April.
Sparks said the combination of the history associated with playing at the campus and the logistics involved with finding a centralized venue capable of handling the crowds for four state finals in a single day made it an easy choice to keep the event at Maryland.
“It’s such a great venue and a great goal for every team in the state to have a chance to play there,” said Magruder Coach Dan Harwood, a member of the state’s boys’ basketball tournament committee. “It’s a special part of the history of the tournament. The kids see it on T.V. during the year and know they can make it there.”
The revised timeline for the tournament actually makes the pacing of the playoff schedule more like that used in the regular season. Boys’ teams will not play more than two games in a week through the state final, while all the girls’ teams must win three games this week to claim a region title.
Sparks said he believes this to be a one-year scheduling phenomenon and both state tournaments are tentatively set for March 13-15 next year.
“As far as we know,” Sparks said, “we’re all in sync for next year and the years to come.”
Longtime Douglass Coach Tyrone Massenburg said the break challenged the late-season schedule he’s followed for years, but he viewed it as an opportunity to get healthy and re-focus.
Last Monday, the Eagles didn’t even touch a ball during practice, instead devoting the whole session to lifting and conditioning. He said some of last week’s practices felt more like preseason workouts with a heavy emphasis on shooting and other individual skills.
Massenburg will find out if that approach pays off when his team takes the court for the first time in 12 days on Tuesday at Glenelg to begin its run in the Maryland 2A South playoffs.
“We just went back to the basics,” Massenburg said. “We had some tough practices early in the week. We sharpened up and put in some new things. I don’t have a problem with it. I like that time to prepare for the playoffs. It’s almost like starting the season over again.”