NCAA Tournament Preview: Maryland basketball battles West Virginia in first round

No. 9 West Virginia (19-14, 7-11) vs. No. 8 Maryland (21-12, 11-9)

When: Thursday, March 16

Where: Legacy Arena

TV: CBS –  Jim Nantz (pxp), Bill Raftery, Grant Hill (analysts)

Radio: WJZ-FM 105.7 (Baltimore), The TEAM 980 AM (D.C.)

Spread: West Virginia -2 (DraftKings)

The madness begins with Maryland basketball. No. 8 Maryland will take on the No. 9 West Virginia Mountaineers at 12:15 p.m. to begin the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Head Coach Kevin Willard reflected on getting the nod for the NCAA Tournament Sunday evening.

“These kids bought into our culture. They bought into our style. I’ve said it all along. They have, they’re, they’ve been one of the best teams to coach because they have a great attitude and they work hard. So again, for them to get that reward for those guys like Jahmir Young coming here and being a huge catalyst, [it] wasn’t guaranteed we were gonna make the NCAA tournament. For him to come in here and get that, I think, is tremendous.”

Donta Scott is averaging 12 points and six rebounds this season. Getting to the NCAA Tournament means a lot to him and this team.

“It means a lot because at the end of the day, you’re a college basketball athlete, you want to play for as long as you can in your college career. Being able to continue that in the NCAA tournament is really a sight to see for us,” Scott said. “It’s just something that makes us happy, and not too many teams get to be in it. The ones that are in it, I know, hopefully, they don’t take it for granted and I know that we won’t.”

Willard understands that the Terps will have to rebound the ball at a high level, and their transition offense and defense will need to be sharp. They can’t settle for threes.

On film, the Mountaineers create good ball movement in their half court sets, and it helps when you have four dynamic scorers in the starting lineup. Defensively, they press and trap the ball well. Maryland’s perimeter defense will need to be strong, given that they make seven three-pointers per game. It will be important to close out on ball screens and contest perimeter shots without fouling.

Willard praised Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins, saying that he’s a hall-of-fame head coach because he adapts to the kids he has every year.

Maryland basketball: How did they get here?

No one expected the 8-0 start the Terps had in nonconference play. All good things must come to end at some point. The Terps would come back down to earth with losses against Wisconsin, UCLA, and No. 7 Tennessee.

Maryland basketball held its own against the Volunteers, Wisconsin, and No. 3 Purdue despite losing in close games, which proved they could handle tough opponents. This team was night and day on the road vs. at home. Despite having a 2-9 record away from the Xfinity Center, the Terps did show signs of improvement from game to game. At home, you couldn’t faze them. They closed the regular season 16-1 in Xfinity Center and 10-0 in Big Ten play.

Their key wins include St. Louis, Miami, Louisville, No. 16 Illinois, No. 24 Ohio State, Michigan, No. 21 Indiana, Penn State, No. 3 Purdue, and No. 21 Northwestern. Their last two losses against Ohio State and Penn State hurt their chances of getting the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. As a result, they were a one-and-done, losing to Indiana in the quarterfinals.

Young, Scott, Hakim Hart, and Julian Reese are the Terps’ big four, and they made big plays when the team needed them throughout the season. They, along with Patrick Emilien, earned All-Big Ten honors. Emilien and Ian Martinez were notable role players who made an impact off the bench.

Last but not least, Don Carey found his rhythm offensively late in the season after going through a shooting slump. Down the stretch, he was a key contributor, scoring in double figures in the last seven games of the season.

West Virginia: How did they get here?

The Mountaineers started the season 4-0 in non-conference play before losing to Purdue and Xavier. The Big 12 wasn’t kind to them as they lost five straight games to start conference play (Kansas State, Oklahoma State, No. 3 Kansas, Baylor, and Oklahoma).

They earned key wins against No. 14 TCU, Texas Tech, No. 15 Auburn, Oklahoma (at home), Iowa State (home and away), Oklahoma State (at home), and No. 11 Kansas State to close the regular season. As an eighth-seed in the Big 12 Tournament, they were a one-and-done also. They beat Texas Tech to open the tournament, 78-62 and lost to No. 1 Kansas, 78-61 in the quarterfinal round.

Erik Stevenson, Tre Mitchell, Kedrian Johnson, and Emmitt Mathews Jr. lead the charge for the Mountaineers, averaging 16, 12, 11, and 10 points per game, respectively. All four of them shoot 40 percent or higher from the field. Stevenson and Mitchell are their best perimeter shooters at 38 percent apiece.

Iowa transfer guard Joe Toussaint and Seth Wilson will be key role players to watch.

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