The Maryland Terrapins will play No. 13 seed Valapariso on Friday in Columbus, Ohio, in their first NCAA tournament game under coach Mark Turgeon.
KENSINGTON — When construction began on the Montgomery County house Mark Turgeon and his wife, Ann, built for their three children last summer, the Maryland basketball team was in the midst of a major renovation after a disappointing 17-15 season.
It seemed only fitting that Turgeon, the Terps and dozens of friends, family members and athletic department staff celebrated the program's first NCAA tournament appearance in five years Sunday at the coach's house.
There was only one problem: the NCAA selection committee did its best to dampen the mood of the party.
Projected to be a No. 3 seed in Pittsburgh after finishing the Big Ten Conference tournament with a 27-6 record, a No. 8 national ranking and in second place in the conference, Maryland was made a No. 4 seed and put in the same Midwest bracket as the tournament's top overall seed, unbeaten Kentucky.
The Terps will open the tournament Friday in Columbus, Ohio, against No. 13 seed Valparaiso.
"Pittsburgh's a little bit closer, a [No.] 3 seed is a little bit better," said Turgeon, who is in his fourth year after succeeding Hall of Fame coach Gary Williams. "The thing I'm most proud of is that we have 26 regular season wins. We've had a heckuva year. The [seeding] number doesn't matter in front of your name. It's really who you're playing."
Though Turgeon said he and the Terps were "really excited" and being a part of March Madness is "special," their immediate reaction was muted, at best, and bordering on shock and disappointment given the team's victories over Big Ten champion Wisconsin, a No. 1 seed, and Big 12 champion Iowa State, a No. 3 seed.
"I love my team, I've loved them all year, we're a [No. 4] seed," Turgeon said, "we were picked 10th [in the Big Ten] and we're mad about it, apparently."
When Turgeon and his coaching staff retreated with their team to the basement of the house for a brief meeting, several players, most notably star senior guard Dez Wells, wore the look of a team that had not been picked in the tournament field of 68, rather than a team that had been ranked for much of the season.
"I think maybe we got so caught up that we were going to be a [No.] 3, we weren't expecting to see our name there," said Turgeon, who took his 2006-07 team at Wichita State to the Sweet 16 and all four of his teams at Texas A&M to the NCAA tournament.
Junior forward Jake Layman said the reaction of a team that has been businesslike in its approach might have been overanalyzed.
"Everyone was saying that we didn't look excited, but for me ... I didn't know how to react … my first time going through that, and I'm sure a lot of guys felt the same way," Layman said. "But I mean, we're all excited, it's a great opportunity for us to showcase how far we've come this year."
Layman acknowledged Turgeon will probably use the lower seed as a way to fire up his team.
"That's definitely motivation for us moving forward," Layman said. "People haven't believed in us all year. I mean, this is just one more thing to use to get us going."
Asked if he will use the perceived slight get his team ready for its first tournament game, Turgeon said: "I haven't had a problem getting these guys motivated all year. You don't go 27-6 if you don't get motivated. We just want to continue to get better. We got better last week [at the Big Ten tournament]. We'll get better this week."
Turgeon chose to look at the positive of taking Maryland to its first NCAA tournament since 2010, when the Terps lost to Michigan State on a last-second buzzer shot in the second round in the next-to-last season of Williams' 22-year career in College Park.
"It's great that we're in, because in our business it's everything," Turgeon said.
Inside some of Baltimore's sports bars, fans grumbled into their beers as they discussed the ranking and the team's prospects for the tournament.
Bill Ralph, 46, who attended an Under Armour party at Mother's Federal Hill Grille, said he thought the selection committee had shown a "Big Ten bias" in making the Terps a No. 4 seed instead of 3.
A former Terps lacrosse player who now lives near New York City, Ralph said he hoped the seeding might allow Maryland to sneak into the later rounds without the target of a higher ranking on its back.
"I think it takes the pressure off," he said. "Nobody's really looking for a No. 4 seed. They're looking for an 11 or 12 seed to knock off a 1 or 2."
Across the street at Banditos, Skip Pritchard, 25, said he thought Maryland was among the top teams in the tournament. He's a Towson graduate, but the Federal Hill resident roots for the Terps.
"I'd like to see them go far," Pritchard said. "Elite Eight at least. I hope they'd have a chip on their shoulder."
Maryland's nearly perfect home record (one loss, to Virginia on Dec. 3) boosted Pritchard's confidence in the team's March Madness chances. But the prospect of facing undefeated Kentucky deflated that a bit.
"They're in the bracket with Kentucky?" he said. "That'll hurt us."