The Maryland men’s basketball team earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament and will open play Thursday against the winner of a play-in game between No. 11 seeds Belmont and Temple.
The winner of the East Region game in Jacksonville, Fla., will advance to face the winner of the game between No. 3 seed LSU and No. 14 seed Yale.
“I love being a coach, but there’s a lot that comes with it. But to be in that room to watch these guys when their name came up, oh, my gosh,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “I wouldn’t trade that moment for all the criticism that we take. It was an amazing moment and a lot of fun.”
The Terrapins (22-10) exceeded many preseason predictions by advancing to the 68-team tournament for the fourth time in five seasons. But they enter having lost three of their past four games, including a disappointing showing in the Big Ten tournament. Maryland, the No. 5 seed in Chicago, lost its first game there to 13th-seeded Nebraska, extending a postseason losing streak. Maryland hasn’t won a Big Ten tournament or NCAA tournament game since 2016.
After the loss in the conference tournament, the Maryland players tried to shift their focus toward the NCAA tournament, finding some comfort in knowing they had another postseason opportunity, unlike last season, when the early exit ended Maryland’s season. Turgeon said after the tournament selection that his team was approaching this as a “new season.”
“We’ve got to stick together,” sophomore forward Bruno Fernando said in Chicago. “We’ve got to keep saying positive things to each other, and we’ve got to look forward to what we’ve got next. We’ve got more games coming up. We’ve got to make sure we don’t have the same experience we have here when we go to play in the next game.”
Maryland started to slip in tournament projections late in the season, thanks to a road loss against Penn State and then the Big Ten tournament defeat to the Cornhuskers. The Terps also failed boost their résumé in two attempts against Michigan — first on the road when they came within three points of the Wolverines late in the second half, then at home when they took a brief lead in the second half but couldn’t hold on.
During the regular season, Maryland beat five teams in this year’s NCAA tournament field — Purdue, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio State. Turgeon said his team’s No. 6 seed showed that the selection committee respected the league.
After a seven-game winning streak beginning Dec. 29, the Terps faced more top-tier conference opponents down the stretch and won just five of nine regular season games after Feb. 1. Maryland’s best win this season was a 70-56 decision over visiting Purdue on Feb. 12 when the Terps allowed only 18 points in the second half against a team that earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Terrapins missed the tournament last year after a 19-13 season and just eight wins in conference play. Anthony Cowan Jr. is the only player in the Terps’ regular eight-man rotation who has played in an NCAA tournament game. After Maryland’s loss in the conference tournament, Cowan said the postseason drought weighs on him.
“Me personally, I haven’t won a postseason game, so that’s been my motivation honestly all year,” Cowan said. “Just to get there. Now that I’m there, just take advantage of the opportunity. You only get so many chances to play in the [tournament]. Who can say they played in the March Madness tournament?”
After Maryland hired Turgeon before the 2011-12 season, the Terps did not make it to the tournament for three straight years. Turgeon has now brought his team to four of the past five but has advanced to the Sweet 16 only once. That 2016 appearance in the region semifinal marked the first time Maryland made it that far since 2003, the year after the school won a national title.
If Maryland advances to the Sweet 16 this year, its games would be in Washington, which is 12 miles from campus. Both Fernando and Cowan said they hadn’t even thought about that until it came up in a question from a reporter.
Previously in Turgeon’s tenure, Maryland earned a No. 4 seed in 2015, a No. 5 seed in 2016 and a No. 6 seed in 2017. The previous time Maryland received a 6 seed, the team lost in the first round against Xavier.
But for at least the next several days, this year’s tournament will be the focus as these players try reverse the Terps’ troubling postseason trend, one that was as visible as ever just a few days ago in Chicago.