CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If overtimes required coaches to play one-on-one, Maryland would be in trouble.
The Terps will have their customary edge in the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday, however, when third-seeded Maryland meets 14th-seeded Iona in the Midwest Region. Both teams are bossed by alums, but while it will be the seventh straight tournament for Gary Williams, it's the first as a head coach for Jeff Ruland, who made it as a big man in the NBA.
Maryland has been to the Sweet 16 in four of the last six years. The Midwest site for the second week of the tournament is Auburn Hills, Mich., but before the Terps get ahead of themselves, they will bundle up and travel tomorrow night to Minneapolis, where they will open the tournament at the Metrodome.
The North Country, land of Kevin Garnett and Garrison Keillor, is also known for its cold.
"I know I better take a skully [knit cap] and some gloves," said Juan Dixon, who opened last year's tournament in sunny Orlando, Fla. "Better take a nice winter coat, too."
The sophomore guard from Calvert Hall turned serious when attention turned to the matter of Maryland's seed.
In the last two seasons, the Terps were placed a line below where their Ratings Percentage Index numbers indicated they should be. With so many other Top 25 teams falling early in the conference tournaments, Maryland's rugged nonconference schedule and its staying power in the Atlantic Coast Conference was noticed by the committee that selects and seeds the tournament.
"A lot of people counted us out earlier in the season," Dixon said, "but a lot of teams ranked ahead of us got a lower seed."
Maryland is the state's only representative in the tournament, and for the second straight year the ACC is limited to North Carolina, the Terps and Duke, which beat them in the conference championship game yesterday.
Williams said that one of the games he watched on ESPN last week while preparing for the ACC tournament was the championship of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. That's Loyola's league, and host Siena lost the title game in Albany, N.Y., to surging Iona.
The Gaels of New Rochelle, N.Y., come in with a 20-10 record, but they've won 14 of their last 15 games. MAAC Player of the Year Tariq Kirksay took a nasty spill in the championship game, and Williams knows where Iona's toughness comes from.
"Most coaches coach the way they played," Williams said. "Ruland worked hard as a player. They [the Gaels] work hard."
The coaching staff, Terence Morris and Mike Mardesich are also familiar with playing in Minnesota. Maryland opened the 1997-98 season in the Black Coaches Association Classic there, and lost in overtime to South Carolina.
In Saturday's second round, Maryland would face either sixth-seeded UCLA or 11th-seeded Ball State. The Bruins are one of only two teams to beat Stanford, the No. 1 seed in the South, and sophomore wing JaRon Rush recently rejoined Steve Lavin's team after a lengthy NCAA suspension over improper benefits.
"It looks like this year, everyone is going to play somebody decent in the second round," Williams said. "There isn't any easy way out."
If the seeds hold, Maryland's Sweet 16 opponent would be second-seeded Iowa State, the Big 12 champion that has made incredible strides under Larry Eustachy. He coached Utah State when it was the Terps' first-round victim in 1998.
In the Cleveland half of the Midwest draw lies the top seed, Michigan State, which has a veteran team that went to the Final Four last year and the prospect of having a huge home-court advantage in the regional semifinals and final.
For all of the hype surrounding Maryland last year, a team that included Steve Francis was seeded only one spot higher than this one.
Assistant coach Billy Hahn expected videotapes of Iona from a service in New Jersey to be at BWI Airport at 7: 30 this morning. The Terps themselves touched down there a little after 9 last night.
While the tournament has become part of their routine, so had watching the selection show on CBS from the team room at Cole Field House.
That changed when they made the ACC tournament final.
"That meant a lot," Williams said. "It was a lot of fun to watch the show here."
Next for Terps
Team: Iona Gaels (20-10)
Seed: No. 14 in the Midwest
Site Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis
Line: Maryland by 14 1/2