Saturday's NCAA Tournament slate features two teams who are all too familiar with the nuances of March Madness. The UConn Huskies and the Maryland Terrapins have played in a combined 63 NCAA Tournaments. They've also reached the Sweet 16 a combined 32 times, played in 15 combined Elite Eights, made seven total Final Four appearances, and have five total national championships to show for it (4 for UConn). And now they'll have to play against each other for just the seventh time ever if they want to cut down the nets again.
UConn made its return to the Big East Conference this year spending the previous seven seasons in the American Athletic Conference. They finished third in the Big East standings and easily dispatched DePaul in the quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden but lost a heartbreaker to Creighton the next night. In the end, the Huskies proved that they haven't skipped a beat and that they'll be a formidable force in the Big East once again.
As for the Terrapins, they had to navigate a very top-heavy Big Ten slate. Although they were below .500 in conference play (9-11), they did enough to impress the committee that they're among nine Big Ten schools that will head to Indiana this weekend. Along the way, they picked up wins over Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, and Michigan State. They also picked up four wins against Top 25 teams.
The Terps are making their fifth tournament appearance since 2015, while the Huskies are in the big dance for the first time since 2016. This will be the first meeting between these teams since December 2015.
East Region: No. 10 Maryland Terrapins (16-13) vs. No. 7 UConn Huskies (15-7)
Time: Saturday, March 20 at 7:10 p.m. ET
Where: Mackey Arena (West Lafayette, Ind.)
Spread: UConn -3
Keys for Maryland
Guards Eric Ayala (14.9 ppg), and Aaron Wiggins (14.0), along with forward Donta Scott (10.9) are all scoring in double figures for the Terrapins. In fact, in each of their last 14 games, either Ayala or Wiggins has been the team's top scorer, and they've scored 15 or more points in those games. But despite that, the Terps were last in the Big Ten in scoring (68.8 ppg) this year.
The good news is that they were the league's fifth-best shooting team (.456 field goal percentage) and ranked sixth in three-point percentage (.353). They have, however, struggled to some degree on the defensive end. They were last in the conference in rebounding (33.3 rpg), 10th in blocked shots (3.4 bpg), and 11th in steals (5.0 spg). UMD will need to step up on both ends of the floor against a UConn team that's won 11 games by double digits this season.
Keys for UConn
The Huskies are powered by guards James Bouknight (19.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg), R.J. Cole (12.3 ppg, 4.4 apg), and Tyrese Martin (10.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg). Their defense is anchored by forward Isaiah Whaley (6.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg), with backup from fellow forwards Tyler Polley (7.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg) and Adama Sanogo (7.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.0 bpg). UConn was the Big East's fifth-best scoring team this season (72.5 ppg) and second-best rebounding team 38.1 ppg), and they've scored 80 or more points in three of their last five games.
UConn has posted an impressive 12-3 record in their last 15 non-conference games. But their last non-con loss just happened to be against a Big Ten team (Indiana, December 2018). If they struggle to contain Maryland's triple threat, their losing streak against the conference will continue (more on that later).
The Huskies and Terrapins have split the previous six meetings against one another. The Terrapins are 50-27 all-time against the Big East but are 1-2 in their last three games against that conference. UConn is 61-36 lifetime against Big Ten opposition but has lost its last four games against the league.
The Huskies, however, are 7-5 in their last 12 postseason contests, while Maryland is 2-6 in its last eight postseason games. UConn will take that statistic, turn it into momentum, and win a close game to advance.
Prediction: UConn 73, Maryland 70
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.