The Maryland women’s basketball team (25-6, 15-3 Big Ten) drew a No. 2 seed Sunday evening as the selection committee revealed the field of 68 teams that will compete for the 2023 national championship. The Terrapins will host No. 15 seed Holy Cross (24-8, 13-5 Patriot League) in the first round Friday at XFINITY Center. The time of the game has yet to be announced.

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After losing five of last season’s top six scorers to graduation and the transfer portal, coach Brenda Frese cobbled together a brand new roster of five incoming transfers, four freshmen and four returners that managed to eclipse the No. 4 seed last year’s team earned in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

“I think clearly there’s a pride factor,” Frese said. “I mean, we knew there was a lot of noise in the offseason. But I think there’s also quiet confidence between our staff and I and our players. The inner circle always knew what we were capable [of], and when we were building this team in the offseason and the phases we were putting together, it was something we truly believed in.”

“It’s definitely crazy to think of a program that loses all those people and has nine new people coming in — you never know really what to expect or how the girls on the team are going to be able to play,” senior forward Faith Masonius added. “I think we exceeded our expectations as well.”

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The Terps learned their NCAA Tournament draw while watching ESPN’s Selection Sunday telecast with fans at XFINITY Center. By receiving a top four seed, Maryland earned the opportunity to host the first two rounds of March Madness. The winner of Friday’s game between Maryland and Holy Cross will advance to play the winner of No. 7 seed Arizona (21-9, 11-7 Pac-12) and No. 10 seed West Virginia (19-11, 10-8 Big 12) in the second round March 19 at XFINITY Center. Arizona is Frese’s alma mater.

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On March 4, the Terps fell to Iowa in the Big Ten semifinals, 89-84, but their airtight resume made an irrefutable case for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Facing the 10th toughest schedule in the country — according to how the NCAA measures strength of schedule — Maryland went 7-4 against ranked opponents, including four victories over top-10 teams. The Terps bolstered their candidacy by peaking towards the end of the regular season, defeating No. 10 Ohio State by 36 on Feb. 5 and No. 6 Iowa by 28 on Feb. 21.

The only drama for Maryland heading into Sunday was its seeding. Ultimately, the Terps achieved a No. 2 seed for the sixth time since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1994 and second time in the last three seasons.

“I had no idea what seed we were going to be at the beginning of the season — nine new [players,]” senior guard Abby Meyers said. “It was definitely a process of building the team up. It’s great to be a two seed. To us, it’s no surprise. We’ve been underestimated, we’ve been the underdog the whole year. But our record shows, our resume shows, and we’re just excited to get out there and start hooping.”

The reveal of the tournament field served as yet another demonstration of the strength of Maryland’s schedule. Seven Big Ten teams qualified for March Madness, led by No. 1 seed and conference regular-season champion Indiana (27-3, 16-2 Big Ten). Iowa (26-6, 15-3 Big Ten), Ohio State (25-7, 12-6 Big Ten), Michigan (22-9, 11-7 Big Ten), Purdue (19-10, 9-8 Big Ten) and Illinois (22-9, 11-7 Big Ten) also earned bids. The Big Ten is vying for its first national championship since Purdue won in 1999.

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In addition, four of Maryland’s non-conference opponents received bids to the NCAA Tournament. Defending national champion South Carolina (32-0, 16-0 SEC), which defeated Maryland 81-56 on Nov. 11 and has won 38 games in a row, earned the No. 1 overall seed, as expected. Baylor (19-12, 10-8 Big 12), Notre Dame (25-5, 15-3 ACC) and Connecticut (29-5, 18-2 Big East) — who collectively went 0-3 against the Terps — also made the field of 68.

“When you’ve gone on the road and have had nailbiter wins and have been put in a lot of close situations — I think this team is more than prepared,” Frese said.

Maryland will be considered a favorite to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the third consecutive year and the 16th time in program history. In NCAA Tournament history, No. 2 seeds have a record of 128-0 in the first round and 120-24 in the second round.

If the Terps continue those trends, they will play in the Greenville, South Carolina, regional beginning March 24. The No. 1 seed in Maryland’s regional is South Carolina.

“I think at this time, nobody’s overlooking anyone,” Frese said. “Anyone that belongs in the NCAA Tournament is a great team, and anyone can beat anyone. So for us, it’s understanding just the mindset that it takes and coming out ready to play.”

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Maryland has now qualified for the last 13 NCAA Tournaments dating back to 2011. (The NCAA canceled the 2020 tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) Last season, Maryland reached the Sweet Sixteen before losing to Stanford, 72-66. The Terps’ lone national championship came in 2006. They have reached the Final Four five times, most recently in 2015.

Dallas will serve as the host city for this year’s Final Four on March 31 and the national championship game on April 2.

Click here to view the full NCAA Tournament bracket.

Sapna Bansil is a pediatric occupational therapist turned journalist who is enrolled in the graduate program at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.