Two teams given a reprieve after late-season slides will square off when sixth-seeded Maryland faces No. 11 seed Xavier in the West Region on Thursday in Orlando, Fla. It’s the third time the historically strong programs have met with Maryland winning both previous contests, including a victory in the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
Both teams were sweating the selection process a bit Sunday after key injuries led to their struggles down the stretch. The Terrapins dropped five of their last nine regular-season games and bowed out in their first game in the Big Ten Tournament against Northwestern. The Musketeers lost six straight from Feb. 11-March 1 following the loss of point guard Edmond Sumner (15 points, five assists per game) to a torn ACL, but they won three in a row before a 75-72 loss to Creighton knocked them out of the Big East tournament. Despite the late swoon, Xavier is in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year and the 11th time in the past 12 seasons.
ABOUT XAVIER (21-13): Sumner was the Musketeers’ No. 2 scorer and a terrific complement to star guard Trevon Bluiett (18.1 points, 5.8 rebounds). Fellow guard J.P. Macura (14.3 points) has had no trouble taking up the scoring slack, but Xavier misses Sumner’s ball-handling skills with freshman Quentin Goodin (4.8 points, 3.2 assists) taking over the point guard role. Xavier’s undoing might be its lack of a dominant post player, as 6-9 forward RaShid Gaston (8.1 points, 6.4 rebounds) is the team’s top big man.
ABOUT MARYLAND (24-8): The Terps have a bona fide star in guard Melo Trimble (17 points, 3.7 assists), but the key to their success in the tournament might be what they get from the supporting cast. Guard Anthony Cowan (10.5 points, 3.7 assists) and forward Justin Jackson (10.4 points, 6.1 rebounds) also average double digits but have been inconsistent producers in their freshman campaigns, and fellow freshman Kevin Huerter (nine points) is a streaky 3-point shooter who can change a game when hot. Although he wasn’t a major producer, the Terps miss the post presence of 7-1 center Michal Cekovsky (7.6 points, 2.8 rebounds), who was lost to a broken ankle three weeks ago.
1. Maryland has won at least one game in 12 straight NCAA Tournament appearances dating to 1998.
2. Xavier has won eight straight neutral-site games in Florida, including six in a row in Orlando.
3. The Terrapins have won 10 games this season by six points or less, including three one-point victories.
TV: 6:50 p.m. ET, TNT
PREDICTION: Maryland 74, Xavier 72