The fourth-ranked Maryland women officially wrapped up their NCAA tournament bid eight days ago when they won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, and tonight they will finally learn who they will have to face in their pursuit of a second national title.
The 64-team field will be unveiled at 7 p.m. on ESPN, and the Terps, who will watch the selection show in Heritage Hall at Comcast Center, are a strong candidate to earn a No. 1 seed for the second straight year. Maryland (28-4) swept the ACC regular-season and tournament crowns, beat seven teams in the top 25 of the Rating Percentage Index (according to CollegeRPI.com) and has won its past 12 games.
"They're playing as well as anybody in the country, sans UConn," Charlie Creme, who does mock brackets for ESPN.com, said last week. "I think a lot of what gets said today and in the next week will be with that prepositional phrase, 'other than UConn.' But Maryland has played exceptionally well, and they're definitely a No. 1 seed."
The Terrapins will play their first- and second-round games at Comcast Center, where they have a 34-game winning streak, on Sunday and March 24. They are likely to be placed in the Raleigh, N.C., regional; the other sites are Trenton, N.J.; Oklahoma City; and Berkeley, Calif.
For the first time since 2004, there will be 16 sites for the opening two rounds, as opposed to eight. That increases the likelihood that a lower-seeded team - for instance, Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J., or LSU in Baton Rouge, La. - could host a higher-seeded team in the second round.
"All we can look at is how we place [teams] into the bracket according to the S-curve," Jacki Silar, chairwoman of the NCAA women's tournament committee, said in a teleconference last week. "We feel like what's important is we've got to put them in the geographical location closest to their campus because it maximizes the student-athlete experience. Hopefully, it will increase attendance at the sites and will increase our TV viewing audience."
Six other ACC teams have solid cases for tournament berths, including 25th-ranked Virginia (23-9). This would be the Cavaliers' 23rd appearance; they returned to the tournament last season after a two-year absence.
Top-ranked and undefeated Connecticut (33-0) will be the tournament's top overall seed and is heavily favored to advance to the Final Four, which will be held in St. Louis at Scottrade Center on April 5 and 7. Two-time defending champion Tennessee (22-10) could be in line for its lowest seed ever; the Lady Vols have never been seeded lower than fourth, and that came in 1986. They haven't been seeded lower than second since 1997.