Xavier limped to the finish line, just as Maryland did, after losing point guard Edmond Sumner with a season-ending knee injury in late January. Many believe the Musketeers wouldn’t have even received an invitation had they not reached the Big East’s semifinals.
Losers of seven of its last 10 games, Xavier (21-13) can claim something the Terps can’t: a win over a top 25 team. The Musketeers beat No. 18 Butler in the Big East tournament quarterfinals before losing to Creighton in the semifinals. It was Xavier’s only win over a Top 25 team in seven games this season.
The Terps only had two chances, losing to Purdue and Wisconsin.
If you listen to Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, the Musketeers are NCAA tournament tested, even more than his own team. That is true: Xavier lost to North Carolina State in a play-in game in 2013-14, to Arizona in the Sweet 16 in 2014-15 and to Wisconsin in the Round of 32 last year.
While junior forward Trevon Bluiett has clearly become the go-to guy in the aftermath of Sumner’s injury, he was more of a role player the past two seasons. In contrast, junior guard Melo Trimble has been Maryland’s top scorer every year since he’s been in College Park.
Statistically, the teams are pretty closely matched.
The Musketeers average 74.6 points a game, 0.4 points more than the Terps. Maryland surrenders 67.8 points a game, 3.6 fewer than Xavier. The Musketeers shoot 45.4 percent from the field, 0.3 better than the Terps. Maryland shoots 36.3 percent on 3-pointers; Xavier shoots 34 percent.
Both teams are average free throw shooters – Maryland hits 69.8 percent of its foul shots compared to 68.8 percent for Xavier. The Musketeers average 37.6 rebounds a game, to 35.9 for the Terps. Neither team has a tremendous assist-to-turnover ratio – 505/435 for Xavier, 459/416 for Maryland.
One area in which the Terps hold a clear advantage is in blocked shots, with 151 to 91, but that edge might be negated some by the fact that 7-1 center Michal Cekovsky, who had a career-best six blocks against Purdue, is out for the season with a broken ankle.
Given some of the other No. 11 seeds the Terps could have faced, Xavier might be one of the more favorable matchups.
Maryland already played Kansas State and won a down-to-the-wire game in Brooklyn. Wake Forest, which will play K-State in a play-in game in Dayton this week, is coached by one of Mark Turgeon’s closest friends, former Kansas teammate Danny Manning. Those tend to be tough games for Turgeon.
Rhode Island, the No. 11 seed in the Midwest, has won eight straight going into the tournament, including the Atlantic 10 title. It might have made for an interesting pre-game handshake given how Turgeon and Rams coach Danny Hurley had to be pulled apart in Cancun last season.