CHICAGO — Coach Kevin Willard wasn’t too concerned after Maryland men’s basketball dropped its last two games of the regular season.
He was excited with his team’s response coming off those two losses in preparation for a “whole different time of year”: single-elimination games in tournament play, also known as March.
While the Terps suffered elimination from their first postseason competition in a 10-point loss to Indiana on Friday, Willard and his team will aim to make the most of their last chance at a tournament run together.
“I want them to enjoy it, we have four or five guys that are never gonna play college basketball again,” Willard said after the Minnesota game. “I want them to be able to sit back and realize this is a lot of fun, this time of year.”
Those two losses at Ohio State and Penn State to end the regular season were against two teams that ended up as double-digit seeds in the Big Ten tournament. But both squads entered the competition in good form and made massive strides in Chicago.
[Indiana’s second-half surge ends Maryland men’s basketball’s Big Ten tournament, 70-60]
The No. 13 seed Buckeyes won three games and worked their way to the Big Ten tournament semifinals before falling to top-seeded Purdue. The No. 10 seed Nittany Lions also won three games, overcoming the No. 3 seed Hoosiers to book a ticket to the conference tournament final on Sunday.
“We came out with a great mindset. Had a good practice yesterday, a good walkthrough. When you’re in this as long as I’ve been … I always look at the big picture,” Willard said after the Minnesota win. “I look at Penn State and Ohio State playing really good, and those are our last two losses. I thought we were playing good basketball so I really wasn’t worried about anything.”
Despite Maryland’s exit from the Big Ten tournament at the quarterfinal stage after a 70-60 loss to Indiana, Willard will hope to see a similar reaction from his team as the Terps continue to look ahead.
Maryland will hear its name called on Selection Sunday in its coach’s inaugural season for the first time in program history. The Terps are a consensus pick to earn an at-large bid and are widely projected as a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament per Bracket Matrix, which aggregates different projections to produce an average projected seed.
[Donta Scott’s first-half marksmanship lifted Maryland men’s basketball to Minnesota win]
“If you’re an at-large team, that means you’ve had a hell of a year, and I’ve said this every year,” Willard said after the game against Minnesota. “That means your fan base should be happy, your [athletic director] should be really happy.”
The projected eight-seed line brings its challenges, with a potential matchup against one of the top four teams in the nation who earned a No. 1 seed likely in store if Maryland advances from the first round.
Still, with a 21-12 record and an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, the Terps are keen to keep their last two weeks in which they’ve gone 1-3 in the past and already have their eyes set on next week’s challenge, whatever it brings.
“I love my team, I don’t know what I have to refocus,” Willard said. “I’m proud of this team, this team is pretty damn good, and come Selection Sunday … I’m celebrating, we’re gonna have a big party on Sunday.”