NCAA tourney preview: No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 11 Xavier
Maryland suffered a lot of attrition after last season with the likes of Robert Carter Jr., Jake Layman, Rasheed Suliamon and Diamond Stone gone. Some may have even wondered if the Terps could make the Big Dance.
Well, not only did it earn a bid, but Maryland was a legit contender all season for the Big Ten title fueled by junior point man Melo Trimble and a trio of freshmen in Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter. But the loss of big man Michal Cekowsky to a season-ending injury last month has impacted depth up front. And Maryland didn’t finish the season with a flurry, getting upset by Northwestern in its first Big Ten tourney game last week and going 2-4 in its last six games.
This team may be too young and sloppy to make a deep run. And consistency has been an issue, too. One or two wins probably would be the ceiling for Maryland, which began the year 20-2 before flattening out down the stretch.
No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 11 Xavier (Thursday, Orlando, West)
Mark Turgeon’s NCAA record: 8-7
Last NCAA appearance: 2016, lost to Kansas in Sweet 16.
Key player: Kevin Huerter. Yes, Melo Trimble is the unabashed star of the show and the straw that stirs the drink in College Park, an All-Big Ten talent who averages 17.0 points and provides the swagger and leadership that defines this team. But Huerter is a big key. No player on the roster may be more versatile than the 6-7 freshman. He averaged 9.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists to go with 1.0 steals. Huerter is a high-energy player who is destined to be an NBA player. The kid impacts on so many levels and is mature beyond his years.
Key number: -0.4, Maryland’s turnover margin per game, which ranks 10th in the Big Ten. Not good. The Terrapins average 13.0 turnovers per game. Melo Trimble can be too careless at times. He needs to be mindful and play with poise and control. He can’t be reckless.
Know Xavier: The Musketeers are paced by Trevon Bluiett, the unquestioned star for a program that has been to seven NCAA tourneys in Chris Mack’s eight seasons in Cincinnati. The Musketeers struggled late, enduring a six-game losing skid toward the end of the season. Blueitt had to deal with a sprained ankle. Another reason for Xavier’s late struggles was the loss of point guard Edmond Sumner to a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 29. That has put a lot of pressure on Bluiett. J.P. Macura needs to play well for Mack, who has won at least one NCAA game in four of his previous six NCAA appearances.