More than a week ago, the Maryland women’s basketball team officially secured a berth in the NCAA tournament by winning the Big Ten tournament championship. On Monday night, the Terrapins learned their path to reach what players and Coach Brenda Frese are hoping is a third Final Four appearance in four seasons — and it is a daunting one.
The selection committee slotted Maryland as a No. 3 seed in the Bridgeport Region when it unveiled the field of 64. The Terrapins (30-2) are set to play No. 14 Bucknell (27-5) in the first round on Friday at noon at Xfinity Center.
Should fourth-ranked Maryland advance, the Terrapins would face sixth-seeded West Virginia, the Big 12 tournament champions, or No. 11 seed Elon on Sunday for a berth in the region semifinals, where a possible matchup with No. 2 seed Duke awaits.
If Maryland were to reach the region final, the Terrapins would almost certainly have to beat top-seeded Connecticut, the four-time defending national champions and owners of an NCAA-record 107-game winning streak, to get back to the Final Four.
The seeding caught the Terrapins somewhat off-guard after they indicated they were anticipating a top-two seed on the heels of a third consecutive Big Ten regular season and tournament championship. Maryland is the only program in conference history to capture dual championships three years in a row.
“I do think it’s a disappointing reflection the committee had on our league, when you win your conference [tournament] championship and regular season and have no bad losses and 30 wins,” Frese said. “From our end, we’ve always said control what you can control. This seed is out of our control. We can control how we get out on the floor and play.”
This is the third time in five seasons Maryland has earned a top-three seed. Last season, Maryland lost in stunning fashion as a No. 2 seed at home in the second round to Washington, 74-65, marking the first time the Terrapins have bowed out that early since 2011.
“In Maryland’s case, defending the entire body of work was really, really difficult,” said Terry Gawlick, the chair of the Division I women’s basketball committee, citing the Terrapins’ 117th-ranked strength of schedule. “It was tough because we felt Maryland didn’t test themselves in the same manner as [other] teams we were considering at the time.”
Maryland will be making its seventh straight appearance in the NCAA tournament under Frese and the 13th overall since she took over in College Park in 2002. This will be the 25th overall appearance in the NCAA tournament for Maryland, which won its only national championship in 2006.
Connecticut (32-0) earned the No. 1 overall seed and will be playing in the Bridgeport Region as it seeks to extend its unprecedented streak of national championships to five in a row and a dozen overall. Of the Huskies’ 107 consecutive wins, all but three have come by double digits. They outlasted Maryland, 87-81, on Dec. 29 in College Park.
The last time Connecticut, which is 5-0 all time against Maryland, lost was on Nov. 17, 2014, an 88-86 overtime defeat against Stanford. The Huskies’ run has been all the more staggering given they graduated the top three overall picks in the WNBA last year and weren’t even ranked No. 1 at the start of this season.
The other top seeds are Notre Dame (30-3) in the Lexington Region; Baylor (30-3) in the Oklahoma City Region; and South Carolina (27-4) in the Stockton Region. The Lady Bears have won two national championships, both under Coach Kim Mulkey, and the Fighting Irish have claimed one NCAA title under Coach Muffet McGraw.
In addition to Duke, which lost to Notre Dame, 84-61, in the ACC championship game, the other No. 2 seeds are Mississippi State in Oklahoma City; Stanford in Lexington; and Oregon State in Stockton. Of the No. 2 seeds, only Stanford won its conference tournament, leaving some analysts to consider Maryland a probable No. 2 seed entering selection Monday.
“Oh, absolutely,” Maryland junior guard Kristen Confroy said when asked whether the Terrapins will use the seeding as motivation. “I think a lot of the mentality on our team is proving people wrong and continuing to put our head down and just fight despite what the outside world might think.”
Working against Maryland was its place in the Ratings Percentage Index, one of the metrics the selection committee considers when assembling the brackets and seeding teams. The Terrapins were 16th in RPI, behind all the No. 2 seeds as well as other No. 3 seeds Florida State, which lost to Connecticut by only two points, Texas and Washington.
Maryland was the only area team to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. Virginia and George Washington also had cases for inclusion, but the Cavaliers and Colonials ranked 53rd and 54th, respectively, in RPI.
Virginia was seeking its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010. The Colonials, meanwhile, had made two straight NCAA tournaments but this season lost to Duquesne in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals.
Later Monday night, George Washington, Virginia, Navy, Georgetown and James Madison were selected to participate in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. Game times will be set Tuesday for the tournament that begins Wednesday and concludes April 1.