One coach made an instant impact in his first season on the job. The other, the most successful leader in his program’s history, can expand his list of postseason accomplishments.
Kevin Willard and No. 8 seed Maryland will meet Bob Huggins and No. 9 seed West Virginia in the first tipoff in the 64-team NCAA Tournament on Thursday afternoon in Birmingham, Ala.
Willard brought the Terrapins (21-12) back to March Madness after a run of success at Seton Hall.
“Your first one is really important for a lot of reasons,” Willard said, per The Diamondback. “One of the main reasons is you have a lot of kids that haven’t been here before, so their reaction and their emotions and their feelings (are) great, it’s awesome. It’s great momentum for the program moving forward.”
Maryland’s turnaround was ahead of schedule; a 10-0 home record in the Big Ten, featuring wins over ranked foes like Purdue and Indiana, aided its tournament resume.
Jahmir Young transferred from Charlotte to play close to his hometown of Upper Marlboro, Md., as a senior. Young earned All-Big Ten second-team honors after averaging 16.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game for the Terps.
He joined the likes of Hakim Hart (11.5 ppg), Donta Scott (11.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Julian Reese (11.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg) in College Park. They brought the program back to the NCAA Tournament after it missed the field last season.
Willard guided Seton Hall to the tournament five times between 2016 and 2022, but he only made it past the Round of 64 once.
Huggins, meanwhile, is no stranger to March. The coach of the Mountaineers (19-14) since 2007-08, Huggins has guided them to the 2010 Final Four and four additional Sweet 16 appearances. Like Maryland, West Virginia is back in the NCAA field after missing out last year.
“They weren’t jumping up and down, but they were excited to play,” Huggins said of his players’ reaction on Selection Sunday. “I never had any doubt that we would play in the tournament. I thought we were getting better and better.”
West Virginia made it out of the highly competitive Big 12 with just a 7-11 record, but that included wins over fellow tournament teams TCU, Iowa State and Kansas State.
Erik Stevenson leads the Mountaineers’ offense with 15.5 points per game and 38.1 percent shooting from 3-point range. He was named to the All-Big 12 third team. Tre Mitchell (11.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Kedrian Johnson (11.2 ppg) and Emmitt Matthews Jr. (10.4 ppg) give the Mountaineers a rounded attack.
The college basketball metrics site KenPom.com rates West Virginia 15th in Division I in adjusted offensive efficiency. Maryland, meanwhile, is considered top-35 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Willard has his offense run at a deliberate pace, while Huggins’ group is more up-tempo but not overbearingly fast.
The programs have met just twice this century, with the Mountaineers claiming wins both times. The winner Thursday is all but certain to face No. 1 overall seed Alabama in the second round Saturday.
–Field Level Media