The No. 4 Maryland women's basketball team has had plenty to celebrate over the past few weeks. Among the highlights were an 18-0 record in Big Ten Conference play, a regular-season title and a conference tournament championship in the Terps' inaugural year in the league.
There also were individual spoils, such as Brenda Frese's being named Big Ten Coach of the Year and sophomore point guard Lexie Brown's being voted first-team all-conference and Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten tournament.
Still, for as rewarding as their first season in the league was, the Terps (30-2) have designs on much more, including a second consecutive run to the Final Four and maybe a crack at top-ranked Connecticut, the prohibitive favorite to win a record 10th national championship and third in a row.
The Huskies are all but certain to be a No. 1 seed when the NCAA tournament field is announced tonight. Maryland players, coaches and supporters, meanwhile, will be watching the selection show at Xfinity Center to learn whether the Terps secure one of the remaining No. 1 seeds. Notre Dame, South Carolina, Tennessee and Baylor also are in the mix.
"I feel like every [one of those teams] thinks they deserve a No. 1 seed," Brown said. "I feel like we left it all on the court these past couple of weeks. We went through conference play undefeated. There's a bunch of other teams out there that also deserve a No. 1 seed. We're going to be thankful for any seed we get."
Maryland's credentials include a No. 6 ranking in the Rating Percentage Index, a dozen wins against opponents in the RPI top 50 and 24 straight victories overall, matching the longest single-season streak in program history. The Terps also became the first team since Purdue went 16-0 in 1998-99 to go undefeated in the Big Ten and the second to complete a Big Ten regular season 18-0.
The Fighting Irish have the No. 1 RPI and No. 3 strength of schedule along with a victory over Maryland, 92-72, in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 3. South Carolina won the Southeastern Conference tournament and has the No. 3 RPI and No. 16 strength of schedule. SEC runner-up Tennessee played the hardest schedule in the country and has the No. 2 RPI, and Baylor's RPI is fourth, although the Big 12 Conference champions lost two of three to close the regular season.
Frese often has said that while being seeded first is a welcome reward for an outstanding season, it doesn't guarantee wins in the NCAA tournament. Maryland, for instance, won the national championship as a No. 2 seed in 2005-06 and last season reached the Final Four as a No. 4.
Last season's Final Four included just two No. 1 seeds, Connecticut and Notre Dame. Stanford advanced as a No. 2 seed.
"I think we've shown we're tremendously consistent," Frese said. "I think our body of work speaks for itself. Obviously, when [the NCAA tournament committee] gets in a room, I don't have all the paperwork that they have, but for us, it's never been about the seed. It's always been about seeing our bracket and being able to advance."
Maryland did just that a year ago despite having to play on the home court of Louisville, the No. 2 seed in the region. The Terps beat top-seeded Tennessee, 73-62, in the regional semifinals before outlasting the Cardinals, 76-73, behind 22 points and 13 rebounds from three-time All-American Alyssa Thomas, since graduated, and 20 points, six rebounds and four assists from Brown.
The Terps again are set to open the NCAA tournament in College Park, as they have each of the past four years. In this season's new format, the top 16 overall seeds are awarded home games in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
"I think we deserve a No. 1 seed," redshirt senior guard Laurin Mincy said. "But at the end of the day, it's only a number in front of your name, so we're just getting ready for whomever we might face."