Maryland men’s basketball is going dancing in its head coach’s inaugural season for the first time in program history.
Less than a year after hiring Kevin Willard, the 21-12 Terps have earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament and will take on No. 9-seeded West Virginia (19-14) on Thursday in Birmingham, Alabama.
“Your first one is really important for a lot of reasons,” Willard said. “One of the main reasons is you have a lot of kids that haven’t been here before, so their reaction and their emotions and their feelings [are] great, it’s awesome. It’s great momentum for the program moving forward.”
The Terps haven’t taken on the Mountaineers since 2015, when they played them in the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament, and have played them just twice in the 21st century. Maryland hasn’t defeated West Virginia since 1991.
Should the Terps advance, they would likely face a rematch of 2021’s NCAA tournament second round game against No. 1 seed Alabama. Maryland fell 96-77 to the then-No. 2 seed Crimson Tide in the last matchup between the two teams.
[Maryland men’s basketball is looking forward to its final challenge: the NCAA tournament]
Willard has immediately helped turn the Terps around after they suffered their first losing regular season since 1993. Maryland was voted to finish 10th in the Big Ten preseason poll but earned a No. 6 seed in the Big Ten tournament before defeating bottom-seeded Minnesota in the second round and falling to No. 3 seed Indiana in the quarterfinal.
The Terps are one of eight teams from the Big Ten in this season’s NCAA tournament.
Maryland got out to a historic 8-0 start in Willard’s inaugural campaign and went 9-2 in nonconference play, with the Terps’ only losses coming against ranked teams in UCLA and Tennessee. Maryland went 11-9 in Big Ten regular season contests, winning all 10 of its home games in conference play.
Willard made the national tournament in six of his last seven seasons at Seton Hall, but has never taken a team past the second round. The Terps haven’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2016.
The coach will hope to change his new team’s recent fortunes in postseason play.
“It’s been an unbelievable journey so far because this is such a great program with unbelievable alumni,” Willard said. “… This team has been so fun to coach in my first year. They’ve just given me everything that they’ve had. So it’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been fantastic.”