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Maryland men’s basketball projected No. 3 seed in NCAA tournament committee’s initial rankings

The No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball team, fresh off a 75-66 win over No. 20 Illinois on Friday night that gave the Terps sole possession of first place in the Big Ten, is projected to be among the top 10 overall seeds in the NCAA tournament.

Maryland is No. 9 in rankings released Saturday by the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, the highest of any Big Ten team. Michigan State is No. 16.

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Baylor, Kansas, Gonzaga and San Diego State are the top seeds.

Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 20 points, Darryl Morsell had 18 and Eric Ayala added 12 for Maryland, which rallied past Illinois on Friday night in Champaign.

Illinois led by as many as 14 points midway through the first half, but the Terps fought back and pulled to within 42-40 with a 3-pointer by Aaron Wiggins at the halftime buzzer. Maryland opened the second half with an 11-0 run to take a lead it never relinquished.

“We didn’t panic out there,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “There were some nerves because of how big the game was, but we knew we were only down by 14 points [in the first half] and we didn’t panic.”

San Diego State has rolled through its schedule, charging into February as the only Division I team still undefeated.

But if teams were selected for the NCAA Tournament today, the Aztecs would travel across the country to play in New York.

The committee gave San Diego State a No. 1 seed, but stuck the Aztecs in the East Region, which includes Duke, Maryland and Butler.

Based on games through Friday, Baylor was No. 1 overall, with Kansas and Gonzaga getting the other two top seeds. The Zags were No. 1 in the West Region, so the committee opted to ship the Aztecs out East — for now.

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“If someone is legitimately a top-four team they must be a 1 seed and then you work your way down,” said Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart, vice chairman of the NCAA basketball committee. “You don’t artificially break up the bracket.”

The NCAA created the sneak peek into the selection process to generate buzz before the 68 teams that make the NCAA tournament are officially revealed on Selection Sunday, which is March 15. The Final Four is March 27-29 in Atlanta.

Baylor was an obvious choice for the No. 1 overall seed. In a season of parity — a record-tying seven different No. 1 teams — the Bears have provided stability at the top, spending the past three weeks at No. 1 in the AP Top 25.

The committee made Baylor the top seed in the South Region in Houston with Louisville, Seton Hall and Auburn. Houston is about a three-hour drive from Waco, so the Bears would have plenty of fan support if they made it that far.

Third-ranked Kansas was the No. 2 overall seed and placed in the Midwest Region in Indianapolis with Dayton, Florida State and Michigan State.

No. 2 Gonzaga was the third overall seed and topped a West Region in Los Angeles with West Virginia, Villanova and Oregon.

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With Gonzaga edging out San Diego State in the overall rankings, the Aztecs were No. 1 in the East Region in New York with Duke, Maryland and Butler.

“There was no question that San Diego State was a No. 1 seed,” Barnhart said. “Gonzaga had a couple of wins just slightly better than San Diego State's with a win over Oregon and Arizona, and that was just the razor's edge difference between the two.”

That fine line, if it holds up, would send the Aztecs cross-country instead of on a bus ride to Los Angeles. If both teams won their first three games in the East Region, San Diego State also would have to face Duke, which has historically played well and has a big following in New York.

“At the end of the day, there's also the geography piece and the way we place our teams to stay within the next available place for them to play, closest place, unless it throws off the balance of the brackets, and we want to make sure that we get that right,” Barnhart said. “And we want to make sure that we stay true to the seed list in all of that. That's how we drive to the bracket decisions that we get to.”

Of course, much can change between now and Selection Sunday. There’s still about 1,500 games left to play.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

NEBRASKA@NO. 9 MARYLAND

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