- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

Maryland is back in the NCAA Tournament.

The Terrapins, who landed an at-large bid and the 10th seed in the West bracket, will play their opening round game against the seventh-seed California in Kansas City.

Meanwhile, the American University Eagles, who earned an automatic bid by winning the Patriot League conference tournament, earned a 14th seed and will face third-seed Villanova in Philadelphia.

For the Terrapins, it is a return to the tournament after falling short of earning a berth last year. In Maryland’s last appearance in 2007, it entered the NCAA Tournament as a five seed, toppling Davidson in the opening game before losing to Butler in the second round.

This year, a first-round victory could lead to a second-round matchup against Memphis, the Conference USA champion which reached the national final last season and enters the tournament on a 25-game winning streak.

For American, it is the second consecutive tournament berth. The Eagles lost to Tennessee last year in their first-ever tournament appearance, and this year will face a challenge against Villanova, who will be playing close to home.

On the campus of American University, the Eagles were joined by more than 250 people plus the pep band and cheerleaders to watch the telecast at the Tavern inside the Mary Graydon Center.

Students who packed Bender Arena three times last week during the Patriot League tournament began showing up before 5 p.m. to claim chairs behind five rows of reserved seating and began plotting ways to get to first round games. Later, a small group began chanting, “No. 1 seed. No. 1 seed.”

The players and coaches arrived at 5:45 p.m. and sat in front of a big screen television that was replaying AU’s Patriot League tournament title win over Holy Cross from Friday.

Students applauded when it was confirmed AU wasn’t in the dreaded Tuesday play-in game and groaned when the first set of Miami games - and a trip to South Beach - didn’t show the Eagles and cheered when it became less of a possibility AU was headed to Boise, Idaho or Portland, Ore.

When American appeared on the screen at 6:23 p.m. for a Thursday game in Philadelphia against Villanova, the hall erupted and the band immediately began playing the school fight song, completely drowning out the rest of the East Region bracket.

Other local teams with tournament berths include MEAC champion Morgan State, who will face second seed Oklahoma in Kansas City, and Southern Conference champion Radford, which will play North Carolina Thursday in Greensboro.

Louisville, which won the Big East conference tournament on Saturday, landed the top overall seed and will represent the Midwest region. Pittsburgh was selected at the top seed in the East, while Connecticut earned the top seed in the West, marking the first time in tournament history that a single conference earned three number one seeds.

North Carolina, which won the ACC regular season but lost to Florida State in the semifinals of the conference tournament, earned the top seed in the South region.

Defending champion Kansas will enter the tournament as a third seed, facing 14th seeded North Dakota State in Minneapolis on Friday.

Maryland head coach Gary Williams has led the Terrapins to the NCAA Tournament 13 times, earning a Final Four berth in 2001 and winning the National Championship in 2002.

This tournament could present a unique challenge for the Terrapins under Williams, as they will play as the underdog in the first round for the first time. Prior to this year, the Terrapins had never been seeded worse than sixth during Williams tenure, and they have been upset in the NCAA first round just twice, in 1996 and 1997.

c Ryan O’Halloran and Patrick Stevens contributed to this report.

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