Maryland women’s basketball Coach Brenda Frese and her players watched Monday night’s NCAA tournament selection show all but resigned to being a No. 2 seed despite a résumé that many years would be worthy of a No. 1. Among the Terrapins’ accomplishments were a 30-3 record, repeating as Big Ten regular season and tournament champions and no bad losses.
Still, there was plenty of celebrating in Heritage Hall at Xfinity Center when the field of 64 was announced and Maryland indeed had secured a No. 2 seed in the Lexington (Ky.) Region. The Terrapins were a No. 1 seed last season and a No. 4 in 2013-14. Both times, they advanced to the Final Four.
“You never take it for granted,” said Frese, who has directed the Terrapins to 12 NCAA tournaments in 14 seasons at Maryland. “It’s really, really hard to do in terms of getting in the tournament, being a really high seed, having that consistency factor. For us, it’s always a tremendous blessing to be in the NCAA tournament.”
The Terrapins are set to open the tournament at home — as is the case with all but one of the top four seeds in each region — against Iona (23-11) on Saturday afternoon. Maryland is 15-1 at home this season and has won eight in a row at Xfinity Center. The Terrapins also have won eight straight NCAA tournament games in College Park, with their last loss coming in the round of 32 in 2011.
If Maryland beats Iona, champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, it would play the winner of No. 10 seed Penn and seventh-seeded Washington on Monday. This is the Gaels’ first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Undefeated reigning three-time national champion Connecticut (32-0) drew the No. 1 overall seed and will play in the Bridgeport (Conn.) Region. The Huskies have won a record 10 NCAA tournament titles and are seeking the first four-peat in the history of the sport. They also were one of two teams this season to beat Maryland, winning, 83-73, on Dec. 28 at Madison Square Garden.
The other top seeds are Notre Dame (31-1) in the Lexington Region; South Carolina (31-1) in the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Region; and Baylor (33-1) in the Dallas Region. Among the No. 1 seeds, only South Carolina has not won a national championship. The Gamecocks did reach the Final Four last season, along with Maryland, Connecticut and Notre Dame, for the first time in school history.
“[It is my] last selection show, last NCAA tournament, so I actually had a little bit of nerves,” Terrapins senior point guard Chloe Pavlech said. “I’ve never had any nerves coming into this, but I’m really excited. It’s just great to be with all the team, all the fans, and we’re excited about our region.”
The Terrapins are one of three area teams participating in the NCAA tournament. George Washington received a No. 8 seed in the Sioux Falls Region following a second straight Atlantic 10 tournament championship, and James Madison is a No. 11 seed in the Dallas Region.
The Colonials (26-6) face ninth-seeded Kansas State on Friday in Columbia, S.C. James Madison (27-5), which captured the Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship, will play DePaul on Friday in Louisville.
GW was able to earn the No. 1 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament despite the absence of senior center Jonquel Jones for 10 games with a shoulder injury. Jones, a Riverdale Baptist product whom some WNBA front-office executives consider a possible lottery pick, was the Atlantic 10 player of the year and defensive player of the year last season in helping GW secure a No. 6 seed.
The Colonials lost to 11th-seeded Gonzaga in the first round, 82-69, in Corvallis, Ore.
“I think after last year I’m glad we’re closer,” GW Coach Jonathan Tsipis said. “I’m excited to stay on the East Coast. We know we’re going to play in a great environment.”
Maryland was among five teams from the Big Ten to earn an NCAA tournament berth this season. The others are Ohio State as a No. 3 seed in the Sioux Falls Region, Michigan State as a No. 4 in the Bridgeport Region, Indiana as a No. 9 seed and Purdue as a No. 11 seed in the Lexington Region.
The Buckeyes swept Maryland in the regular season but lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. The Terrapins beat the Spartans in the final, 60-44, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, which is also the site of this season’s Final Four.
“Our team is really confident right now,” Frese said. “After winning the regular season and Big Ten conference tournament, they’re practicing really hard. They’re trying really to be the most prepared team going into the tournament. Experience has really helped us, and now we’re looking forward to getting started.”