The Terrapins certainly have to be happy grabbing a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. After missing the Tournament for four straight seasons, the Terrapins were getting a little anxious, and head coach Mark Turgeon was certainly on the hot seat. But after moving to the Big Ten Conference, the Terrapins finished in second place and return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2010. Now Maryland faces off against a tough Valparaiso Crusader team out of the Horizon League.
Upsets have already been a theme in this year's tourney, and Maryland will need to play tough ball in order to avoid becoming a victim. Valparaiso plays tough defense, allowing just 59.3 points per game, and the Crusaders and the Terrapins both average about 70 points per contest. Valparaiso held Green Bay to a mere 44 points in its last game, the Horizon League Conference Championship, and will need to shut down guards Melo Trimble and Dez Wells if it wants a chance at the upset.
Valparaiso is led by sophomore Alec Peters with 16.7 points per game. He also leads the Crusaders on the glass with 6.8 boards per game. He will likely get the assignment on Maryland's second leading scorer Wells, so look for that match up to have a huge impact on how this one plays out. Valparaiso has only lost 5 games this year, but lacks a solid win as it had one of the worst strengths of schedule out of all the teams in the field. That being said, it did rout Murray State, a team that was close to making the tourney, 93-58.
Maryland has won 8 of its last 9 games, and in a Big Ten Conference that's no pushover, this team can certainly play. The Terrapins exited the Big Ten Tournament after a semifinal loss to the Michigan State Spartans, but not before beating another Tournament team in Indiana in the quarterfinals.
Valparaiso has not played a team in the RPI Top 50 this year, so it is difficult to know exactly how they'll play against a high-caliber team like Maryland. We do know that the Crusaders are 3-1 against the RPI Top 100, so they can stick with some of the better teams in the league. Regardless, Maryland is the 11th best team according to RPI, so this one could get ugly real fast.
This one comes down to how well Alec Peters can compete with some of the best players in the nation on this Maryland squad. The combination of Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, and Dez Wells will certainly be a handful for the Crusaders, but stingy defense could be the difference for the team out of the Horizon. It's March, and anything can happen.