4. Maryland (27-6, 14-4/Big Ten)–A four-seed might feel like a little bit of a slap in the face to this Maryland squad, which posted its highest win total since 1998-99, when it had things rolling under Gary Williams.
The Terps boast one of the best freshman no one seems to know about in guard Melo Trimble, who averages 16.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3 assists per game and should be named to the Freshman All-America team. But senior guard Dez Wells (15.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) may be their most important player, and when he goes off, this team is one of the most dangerous in the country.
Maryland scored wins over Iowa State, and Wisconsin (Frank Kaminsky ain’t God!), and won at Oklahoma State, at Purdue, not to mention a regular-season sweep of Michigan State. (Sparty did get them in the Big Ten semis, though).
This is the type of team that can challenge Kentucky–if the Wildcats have an off night. No, Maryland doesn’t have the size or the depth to match up with UK. But it does have the players–and the chip-on-the-shoulder attitude to make things interesting.
28th Defensive Rebounding (25.9)
91st Points Allowed (63.2)
290th Assists per game (10.9)
13. Valparaiso (28-5, 15-3/Horizon)–The Drew family has been good for Valparaiso basketball. After seven NCAA Tournament trips under his father, Homer Drew, son Bryce now has the Crusaders back in the Big Dance for the second time in three years. You might remember that Bryce once did this.
This year’s Valpo squad isn’t as talented as the one that raced to the Sweet 16 in 1998, but it isn’t a pushover, either. The Crusaders were one of the nation’s stingiest defensive teams, ranking 18th in points allowed, 24th in defensive rebounds and 15th in field goal percentage defense.
They held Wisconsin-Green Bay to just 44 points in the Horizon League championship game, and shut down high-scoring squads in Murray State and Eastern Kentucky early in the season. (Valpo’s 93-58 win over the Racers might be one of the big reasons why Murray State won’t be playing in the NCAA Tournament).
Valpo has a skilled big in 6-9 sophomore Alec Peters, who averaged 16.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game this season. Darien and Tevonn Walker each averaged over 10 points per game this season for the Crusaders.
18th Points Allowed (59.3)
24th Rebounds per game (26.0)
15th Field Goal Percentage Defense (38.8)
PREDICTION: This one stays interesting for much of the first half, as Alec Peters gets some easy baskets and Valpo’s defense impairs Maryland. But the Terps pull away in the second half, then best Buffalo to set up a Sweet 16 showdown with Kentucky. That game will be the Wildcats’ first real test, and if you’re feeling brave–take the upset. It probably won’t happen, but if it does, you’ll win your office pool.