ORLANDO-The No. 6 Maryland Terrapins (24-8) are preparing to face a No. 11 Xavier Musketeer (21-13) squad that appears to have regrouped after a rough February.
“You see a much more confident team,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said about his first-round opponent. They were much more efficient on both ends of the floor, I thought, and their best players played well.”
Xavier was nationally ranked through the better part of the first three months of the regular season. Then its best player, sophomore guard Edmond Sumner, tore his ACL in a Jan. 29 game at St. John’s.
In addition to that, junior guard Trevon Bluiett dealt with a nagging ankle injury and senior guard Myles Davis left the team. A season of high expectations was derailed as were Xavier’s hopes of challenging Villanova for the Big East regular season championship.
Xavier head coach Chris Mack said the injuries and defections not only made difficult to win, but difficult to even practice.
“We didn’t have 12, 13 scholarship players,” he said. “Our walk-ons tried their best, but it’s just a different experience in terms of how we usually, normally practice.”
The Musketeers won two games in the Big East Tournament to save their season and are saying they’re back on track.
“To be able to beat Butler kind of sparked us, gave us a little bit of energy, a little bit of hope because that was a top-20 team,” Bluiett said. We knew when we got them, we were starting to get our mojo back.”
Bluiett, who averages 18.1 points per game, and the rest of the Musketeers will test the Terrapins youth and that’s why Maryland head coach will lean on his leading scorer, junior guard Melo Timble. Turgeon says he needs Trimble to be the steady hand for his team.
“He knows he has to be the leader of this team…,” Turgeon said. “He’s comfortable doing it. He’s much more comfortable doing it.”
Trimble appears to agree. He’s watched the roster turnover over the past three seasons and said he realized he had to go from someone who takes it all in to the leader.
“So it’s different. I’m able to be a leader,” he said. “The way I played this year was the right way, in my opinion. I was able to get my teammates involved this year.”
Maryland and Xavier is scheduled for 6:50 p.m. on Thursday. The winner will play the winner of No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 3 Florida St.