Maryland returns to NCAA Tournament after 4-year drought
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) There once was a time not too long ago when Maryland's presence in the NCAA Tournament was a given.
The Terrapins had a run of 11 straight appearances from 1993 through 2004, a streak that included two straight trips to the Final Four and a national championship in 2002. Maryland also qualified in 2007, 2009 and 2010, winning a first-round game on each occasion.
Now, after a dry spell of four years, the Terps are again part of March Madness. Maryland (27-6) will open Friday against Valparaiso (28-5) in Columbus, Ohio.
''It was pretty important, obviously, and huge for our program,'' Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said Wednesday before the team left the campus.
''It's how we did it, too. It's not like we limped into the tournament. We won eight of our last nine, won 27 games and got a four-seed. We've had a tremendous year to this point and want to obviously continue and win a few more down the road.''
The last time Maryland played in the NCAA Tournament, guard Greivis Vasquez was providing leadership for coach Gary Williams.
This squad, behind senior Dez Wells and standout freshman Melo Trimble, has given Turgeon his first NCAA appearance in four years at the school. Turgeon was previously 17-15, 25-13 (including an NIT run) and 17-15.
''We've won a lot of games here, but everything's about the NCAA Tournament,'' he said. ''We've had to build a little bit and we haven't done everything right, but I'm proud of what we've accomplished.''
After five players transferred during the offseason, the Terrapins were intent upon making their first year in the Big Ten a success. Maryland finished second in the league and was ranked in The Associated Press poll for 15 straight weeks, the longest streak since 2002-03.
Just like old times.
''It's kind of special to be part of a team like this, one that kind of changed the culture of Maryland basketball and the expectation to be in this spot every year now,'' forward Jake Layman said.
After transferring from Xavier to Maryland in 2012, Wells led the Terrapins in scoring for two straight years. This year he ranks second behind Trimble, but the senior finds this season to be the most rewarding of them all.
''It's all about weathering the storm, staying true to what you believe in and keeping your faith alive and working hard,'' Wells said. ''My time at this university and this program is winding down. I told the guys, `You have to understand you have something special here - that culture we've established - and you have keep that going throughout your time here.'''
Wells was named to the All-Big Ten team, ranks 20th on the school's career scoring list and tallied 26 points in a huge home win over top 10 Wisconsin last month.
None of that is relevant in summing up what he's meant to a basketball program striving for a return to greatness.
''I think Dez will be remembered for getting the standard back to where we wanted it to be, with leadership and winning and playing at a high level in college basketball,'' Turgeon said. ''No matter what happens in the next few weeks, that's going to be his legacy here.''
Turgeon's place in Maryland history, meanwhile, remains a work in progress.
''I came here to be a 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament,'' he said. ''It might not happen every year, but that's what we want to do.''