The madness is here. One of the most action-packed sports days of the year has arrived. Within the first few hours of the afternoon in the east, we’ll have seen nearly double-digit games already tipped off. The East Region’s No. 6 vs. No. 11 showdown in Jacksonville, Florida, between Maryland and Belmont slots in right in the heart of that loaded slate and could be one that draws a lot of eyes as the game progresses.
Belmont (26-5) emerged victorious in its First Four game with Temple on Tuesday night for its first NCAA Tournament win in program history. The Bruins — who fell to Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) Tournament championship game and got in as one of the last four at-large teams — will look to make it two in a row against Maryland. The Terrapins (22-10) finished fifth in the rugged Big Ten (13-7) but was upset in the second round of the conference tournament by Nebraska.
The winner of this Round of 64 matchup — which will mark the inaugural meeting between the two programs — will face the winner of No. 14 Yale vs. No. 3 LSU, which precedes Belmont-Maryland in VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
While Belmont is in the midst of its eighth NCAA Tournament appearance — and first as an at-large selection — Maryland is making its fourth trip to the Big Dance since 2015. While the Bruins are still basking in the glow of their first NCAA Tournament victory, the Terrapins are looking to do the same for the first time since 2016.
First Round: No. 11 Belmont Bruins (26-5) vs. No. 6 Maryland Terrapins (22-10)
Time: Approximately 3:10 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Keys for Belmont
Belmont’s offensive proficiency shone through in its First Four game against Temple. The Bruins came into the tournament averaging an NCAA-best 19.9 assists per game, and assisted on 15 of their 28 field goals against the Owls on Tuesday. They also nearly matched their season scoring average of 87.4 points per game thanks to an efficient (52.8 percent from the field, 39.1 percent from 3-point range) shooting effort.
Guard Kevin McClain led all scorers with 29 points while 6-foot-11 freshman center Nick Muszynski added 16 of his own. Guard Dylan Windler had just five points, well below his season scoring average (20.8), but he was dominant on the glass (game-high 14 rebounds) and played the full 40 minutes.
Keys for Maryland
Maryland is used to having its way on the boards, as the Terrapins boast the seventh-best rebound margin (+8.6 per game) in the country. Mark Turgeon's team uses its size and athleticism to its advantage on both ends of the court, holding teams to 39.7 percent shooting from the field (16th). But this Maryland team also is young and this inexperience shows up when it comes to a crucial element of postseason basketball: turnovers. The Terps struggle on both ends, forcing just 9.47 turnovers per game — the fewest of all 351 Division I teams — and don't record a lot of steals (4.3, eighth fewest). Their defense and rebounding are two viable calling cards, but improving in the turnover battle will be a must.
Sophomore forward Bruno Fernando is a key piece for Maryland, a contributor in a number of areas. His 20 double-doubles rank seventh in the nation and he leads the Big Ten (15th nationally) at 61.8 percent from the field. Fellow sophomore Anthony Cowan ranks among the conference leaders in assists (4.3 per game, fourth), scoring (16.0, eighth), and is extremely reliable when he gets to the free-throw line (82.0 percent, fifth). This inside-out duo will be critical as Maryland looks to avoid the upset.
Belmont has proven it can score against major competition and now has shed the proverbial monkey from its back after winning on Tuesday. Now, the Bruins look to keep it going against a battle-tested Maryland team that has plenty of talent but has underperformed as of late. The Terrapins’ defense will need to keep playing at a high level, but can they keep up with the Bruins’ scoring pace and turn them over enough to keep the game within reach?
Prediction: Belmont 76, Temple 69
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.