- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2016

Spokane is there, in the northeast corner of Washington. It’s where people fly into when going to Washington State, about an hour south, or to check on Gonzaga, an annual NCAA tournament participant.

It’s also the place Maryland, the No. 5 seed in the South Region, was jettisoned to because of a lurching end to a season of promise. The Terrapins are 5-5 in their last 10 games. That close to a season that began with them ranked among the nation’s top five teams means their NCAA tournament journey will start 2,490 miles from College Park.

“Sometimes, it’s good to get away from home,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “I feel bad for our fans. I really do. I feel bad for our families. It’s a long way away for us on Friday, but it might be good for us just to get away, really lock in and concentrate.”

Waiting for them will be South Dakota State in an ever-tricky No. 5 versus No. 12 matchup. In tournament history, No. 5 seeds win just 67.4 percent of their games against No. 12 seeds. Had Maryland been moved up one line, its odds of moving to a second game would have increased significantly: No. 4 seeds beat No. 13 seeds 80.5 percent of the time. Once the Terrapins saw Michigan State was a No. 2 seed, they figured everyone would be bumped down accordingly. They were right.

No Maryland players have been to Spokane before. Their lack of familiarity with the city is countered by knowledge of South Dakota State.

Back in November, Maryland traveled to Mexico to play in the Cancun Challenge, as did the Jackrabbits. The Terrapins were able to watch South Dakota State win two games in person. What they saw in both games is what led South Dakota State to the tournament: balanced scoring.

Three players — Mike Daum, George Marshall and Deondre Parks — average around 15 points per game. Daum, a 6-foot-9 freshman forward, is a rapid scorer. He plays just 20.5 minutes per game, yet leads the team in scoring at 15.2 points per game. He shoots 45 percent from behind the 3-point line.

In each of the last six years, South Dakota State has made some form of postseason appearance. In 2012 and 2013, it made back-to-back NCAA tournaments behind point guard Nate Wolters, who was drafted 38th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013. An appearance in the College Basketball Invitational followed, and an NIT bid came the next season. After winning the Summit League tournament against North Dakota State on March 8, the Jackrabbits were back into the NCAA tournament for the third time in five years.

A reason for that is stability. South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy is in his 21st season at the school and has more than 400 college wins. The Terrapins know the danger of such programs.

“Don’t take anyone lightly,” Maryland guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. “I’ve been in situations [at Duke] where I’ve made it all the way to the Elite Eight, I’ve been in situations where I’ve lost in the first round. Everybody’s hungry. It’s everyone’s last chance.”

Should Maryland move on, it would face No. 4 seed Cal or No. 13 seed Hawaii in the portion of the tournament that has stopped it for years. The Terrapins have not made it past the first week of games since 2002, the year after they won the national championship.

After that, would likely be the tournament’s top seed, Kansas, in a Sweet 16 game to be played in Louisville.

Despite the middling end of the season, Maryland can take solace from glimpses of high-end play put forth in the Big Ten tournament. It scored 97 points — the second-highest total of the season — when ripping apart a Nebraska team that held it to 70 points in their prior meeting. Against Michigan State, Maryland was in the never-ending tussle that the Spartans always provide. It lost, 64-61, but felt good about the defense played during the game. Now, the Terrapins hope to blend those things at the NCAA tournament after a six-hour plane ride.

“We feel much better about ourselves than we did a week ago,” Turgeon said.

⦁ Staff writer Anthony Gulizia contributed to this story.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide