- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

This time around, the Final Four won't suffice.
Coming off a historic regular season, the University of Maryland men's basketball team will begin its quest for the school's first national title in its own back yard, taking on the winner of the Alcorn State-Siena play-in game in the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament on Friday at MCI Center.
The Terrapins, who advanced to last year's Final Four, enter the tournament at 26-4 and are the top seed in the East region, the first No. 1 seed in school history.
"We've done some good things this year," said junior forward Tahj Holden. "We won the outright regular season championship in the ACC, 25 victories. Those are all good and everything, but not to make it to the Final Four, not to win the national championship, that's what you go for. That's been our goal since last year when we lost [in the Final Four], to get back and win a national championship."
Two other storied area programs, Georgetown and Virginia, were nationally ranked during the regular season but failed to reach the NCAA tournament, settling for spots in the less-prestigious National Invitational Tournament. Both teams earned NCAA berths last year.
"The NIT certainly is a post-season tournament, but I'm not telling you we're not disappointed," said Georgetown coach Craig Esherick.
Maryland joins Kansas, Duke and Cincinnati as a top seed in the three-week, four-region, 65-team tournament, an annual orgy of upsets and office betting pools. Following a best-ever 25-3 regular season and the school's first outright Atlantic Coast Conference title since 1980, the Terrapins are legitimate national title contenders, a deep and experienced squad that returns the bulk of last season's surprise Final Four team, including All-ACC and likely All-American guard Juan Dixon.
Dixon, a quick, sharp-shooting senior who is the second-leading scorer in Maryland history, averaged 19.5 points per game and became the first Terrapin since John Lucas to be selected to the all-conference squad for three consecutive seasons. Joining him in Maryland's starting lineup are burly senior center Lonny Baxter, an All-ACC second teamer, junior guard Steve Blake and sophomore forward Chris Wilcox, both third-team All-ACC selections, and senior swingman Byron Mouton, an All-ACC honorable mention.
All five were members of the Terrapins team that upset top-seeded Stanford in last year's tournament to reach to the school's first-ever Final Four. In the national semifinal, Maryland suffered a heartbreaking loss to conference archrival and eventual champion Duke, which defeated Maryland in two of three previous meetings and rallied from a 22-point first-half deficit to end the Terrapins' season.
"[Last season], we went through a lot just to get [to the Final Four], and it was a big thrill," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "Hopefully, we're better this year at preparing. We still want to enjoy the situation we're in."
Maryland hopes to rebound following an unexpected early exit from the ACC tournament. The Terrapins entered as the top seed but failed in their bid to capture the school's first title in 22 years, falling to North Carolina State 86-82 in Saturday's semifinal round.
"After that, [the No. 1 seed] makes everything great again," Williams said. "The excitement of being a No. 1 seed allows us to work hard. We didn't do some things we know we should have in the ACC tournament. Hopefully, we'll be a better team on Friday."
The Terrapins figure to enjoy a significant advantage by playing their first and second round games at MCI Center, a short Metro ride from College Park. Maryland was assigned to the Washington subregional under new NCAA guidelines intended to limit travel and keep top teams close to home during the tournament's opening weekend.
The new rules were adopted after last season's tournament, in which three Washington-area teams Maryland, Georgetown and George Mason were sent to Boise, Idaho, for first and second round play.
"We were definitely one of the best four teams in the country, and hopefully we're going to continue to show it," Dixon said. "We don't have to travel. We look forward to having a 10- or 15-minute ride to the MCI Center."
The Terrapins will face the East region's No. 16 seed, the winner of a play-in game between Alcorn State and Siena held Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio. In the upset-laden history of the NCAA tournament, no top seed has ever lost to a No. 16, though Georgetown almost fell to Princeton in 1989.
"You never overlook anyone you play," Williams said. "A lot [in the tournament] depends on who's hot and who's healthy. In this type of format, it's one game and you're done."


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