Terps and Bears glide into NCAAs

No. 4 Maryland faces No. 13 Houston on Friday in Spokane

No. 15 Morgan State plays No. 2 W.Va. on Friday in Buffalo

March 15, 2010|By Don Markus and Ken Murray | Baltimore Sun reporters

Selection Sunday was a little more subdued, but no less satisfying, for the Maryland and Morgan State men's basketball teams going to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.

A year ago, Maryland boosted its chances of going to the NCAA tournament by winning back-to-back games in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, but still was nervous about the bid until seeing its name pop up on the television screen. This year, the mind-set was markedly different as the Terps watched together at Comcast Center.

"It was fun, you don't have to worry about if you're in or out - you're in," senior guard Greivis Vasquez said later.

A year ago, Morgan State made the NCAA tournament for the first time as a Division I school, but going again didn't dilute the moment for fourth-year coach Todd Bozeman.

"I'm excited about being in," Bozeman said after watching the nationally televised selection show at the school's McKeldin Center. "For these seniors to play in the NCAA tournament two straight years ... there were seniors on all those MEAC teams that have never been to the tournament. These guys have been to two."

The two local schools were among the 65 to either qualify with an automatic bid, as Morgan State did by winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, or be given an at-large invitation, as was the case with Maryland, the regular-season ACC co-champions.

Maryland (23-8) will be a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region and meet No. 13 seed Houston (19-15) in Spokane, Wash., on Friday around 10 p.m. Morgan State (27-9) will be a No. 15 seed in the East - the same as last year - and will play No. 2 seed and Big East tournament champion West Virginia (27-6) in Buffalo, N.Y., on Friday at 12:15 p.m.

The mood of the Maryland players as they watched the selections unfold might have been more relaxed than a year ago, but not for their coach.

"It's never subdued for me," said Gary Williams, who in his 32nd season as a Division I head coach will be taking a team to the NCAA tournament for the 17th time, including the 14th time in 21 years at Maryland. "Anytime you make it, it's significant to me."

The Terps, who were considered a bubble team in 2009 because of a 7-9 conference record, were assured of an at-large bid this season after finishing with a 13-3 record and tied with Duke for first place during the regular season. All Williams and his players had to think about was when, not if, they would see their names flash on the television screen.

The announcement came quickly - and afterward, a collective cheer went up involving everyone but Williams.

The 65-year-old coach recalled his first Maryland team in 1989-90 being relegated to the NIT and the next two years not being eligible because the school was saddled with sanctions caused by his predecessor, Bob Wade. Though not as emotional as last year, Williams was equally appreciative.

"To make the NCAA tournament is always a great honor, and it's a great feeling as a team because you know you've worked very hard," Williams said. "To be the fourth seed means the selection committee felt you were one of the top 16 teams in the country. That is something our players should be proud of."

Aside from knowing that Houston won the Conference USA tournament and has the nation's leading scorer in Aubrey Coleman, the Terps admittedly are not that familiar with the Cougars, a former NCAA powerhouse who made three straight Final Fours (1982-84) and will be making its first tournament appearance in 18 years.

Maryland senior guard Eric Hayes knows even less about Spokane. "This is probably the only situation when I'd ever go," Hayes said.

While Maryland will have to make the long trek to the Great Northwest, the Bears will have a shorter trip to Buffalo.

Some 200 Morgan State fans who assembled at the student center, gave a collective sigh when the first two No. 15 seeds, UC Santa Barbara and North Texas State, were announced for their respective games against Ohio State and Kansas State. When Morgan popped up on the screen to face West Virginia, the crowd erupted.

"I think they cheered because it was close and they can get there," said Bozeman, who will be taking a team to the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in eight seasons as a head coach, the first three coming in four years at California.

Bozeman, who could become a hot coaching commodity should the Bears knock off the Mountaineers, said that last year's 28-point loss to the No. 2-seeded Sooners and future No. 1 NBA draft pick Blake Griffin in Kansas City, Mo., should help Morgan State this time around.

"It will make us better prepared regardless of the outcome," he said. "Guys come back feeling good about themselves. It was the first time we chartered [a plane]. We had a police escort to the arena. Fans were outside wanting autographs."

Earlier versions of this article incorrectly reported the Oklahoma Sooners' seed last season. They were a No. 2 seed. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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