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Terps will be No. 4 seed in first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010

Maryland will be a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. Their first game is Friday vs. No. 13 seed Valapariso.

This was part of the reason Mark Turgeon took the Maryland coaching job four years ago to succeed retiring future Hall of Famer Gary Williams.

It was part of the reason Jake Layman stayed in College Park last spring after three players he was recruited with and two other teammates transferred.

It was “the reason” Richaud Pack became a Terp last summer after playing at two different schools.

Turgeon and the two players — along with the rest of a team that turned a hard-to-watch 17-15 season a year into a 27-6 surprise — all thought of the day when Maryland would be back in the NCAA tournament.

That came Sunday, when the Terps were made a No. 4 seed in the Midwest region. Maryland (27-6) will play No. 13 seed Valparaiso (28-5), the Horizon League champion, Friday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

Though Turgeon seemed more than a little perplexed — and peeved — when he saw that Maryland was in the same part of the draw as unbeaten Kentucky, the tournament's overall top seed, he quickly made a spin move toward the positive.

“First we're really excited, I mean just to be a part of this tournament is special,” Turgeon told a group of reporters who had gathered at his family's home in Montgomery County. “To be seeded so highly is special.

“Pretty close to home, within six hours for our fans, I'm sure a big group of fans are coming there. All year we've stayed focused on one thing. Right now we're focused on Valpo. I don't know anything about them, but I will by tonight. I know they're heckuva team.”

Pack, who came to Maryland as a graduate student in the business school, said that he and his teammates were “just excited, about to play in the NCAA tournament, that was our goal at the beginning of the season, we've accomplished what we wanted to do getting in, now moving forward, take it game by game.”

Pack said that low-key and seemingly disappointed response by the entire team might have had also to do with anticlimactic nature of the announcement.

For most of the past month, during which the Terps won seven straight games before losing in Saturday's Big Ten semifinal to Michigan State, Maryland knew it was going to the NCAA tournament.

“While we're excited, it wasn't the biggest surprise, but [we're] really happy to be in,” Pack said. “I don't know if that came off in our facial expressions.”

Pack was quick to add, “A [No.] 4 means that the committee thinks that you're one of the top 16 teams in the country. We always play with a chip on our shoulder and I think we'll continue to do that.”

As usual with opening-game opponents that are not regularly on national television, the Terps know virtually nothing about Valparaiso. Certainly the best-known member of the Valparaiso team is its 40-year-old coach.

Bryce Drew returned to the Indiana school the same year that Turgeon came to Maryland. Drew replaced his brother, Scott, now at Baylor.

It's not what Drew has done as a coach, leading the Crusaders to an NCAA tournament berth for the second time in four years, that is as noteworthy as what he did as a player, when his 3-point shot off an inbounds pass helped 13th-seeded Valparaiso to upset No. 4 seed Mississippi in the 1998 NCAA tournament.

More than a half-generation removed, Pack had obviously not seen a trick play known as “The Shot” — or at least not associated Drew's name with it.

“Don't remember,” he said.

Though Maryland as a team has not experienced the NCAA tournament, this marks Turgeon's sixth time as a coach, including four straight appearances at Texas A&M and one at Wichita State.

Among his players, seniors Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz have playing experience.

Wells played in the 2012 tournament as a freshman at Xavier, scoring 14 points with 11 rebounds in beating Notre Dame in the opening round on a team that eventually lost to Baylor — coached by Scott Drew, Bryce's brother — in the Sweet 16.

Smotrycz played in that year's tournament as a sophomore for Michigan, scoring 15 points with seven rebounds in an opening-round loss to 13th-seed Ohio. (Pack was on the North Carolina A&T team that played in the 2013 tournament and lost to Louisville after winning one of the play-in games.)

“We're actually going to have a meeting to have Dez, Evan, Coach [and] Richaud speak on what to expect going forward.,” Layman said “This tournament is totally different than any other tournament that you'll ever play. We're excited to hear what they have to say.”

Layman, who will be expected to play a key role as the team's No. 3 scorer behind Wells and freshman Melo Trimble, said that getting into the NCAA tournament for the first time “shows how far we've come and how we've changed the culture of Maryland basketball.”

Turgeon thinks that his team is battle-tested in another regard, having come out of its first Big Ten season with a 14-4 record that included five road victories as well as wins over four NCAA-tournament bound teams: Wisconsin, Michigan State (twice), Indiana and Purdue.

“I think the versatility of the Big Ten helps you,” Turgeon said. “Indiana is a fast team, those other teams are strong teams. We're ready for anything.”

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NO. 4 SEED MARYLAND VS. NO. 13 SEED VALPARAISO

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

When: Friday, approximately 4:40 p.m.

TV: TNT; Ian Eagle (play-by-play), Doug Gottlieb (analyst), Evan Washburn (sideline)

Radio: 105.7 FM

Line: Maryland by 4 1/2

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