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2021-22 Maryland Women’s Basketball Preview
A loaded Terrapin team looks to get past its recent NCAA Tournament failures
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For the nation’s top-scoring offense, last season wasn't supposed to end in a sluggish, frustrating 64-61 Sweet 16 loss to Texas. So Maryland is treating it as an incomplete class, with the final grade to be determined next April.
The Terps return 93 percent of their scoring. The offense again will be a barrage of three-point shots and layups fueled by turnovers. An NCAA Tournament bid is presumed, and talk of a national title is now the topic in College Park. The question is, can the Terps advance deeper into the postseason?
“We don’t want to be surprised in March,” said Head Coach Brenda Frese at a preseason press conference. “We want to know in November, December, as we go into conference play.”
She should have a good idea before Christmas, as Maryland plays its toughest non-conference slate ever. In the space of a week around Thanksgiving, the Terps will take on Baylor, defending NCAA champion Stanford and North Carolina State. South Carolina looms on Dec. 12. All four are in the Associated Press preseason top 10; three are in the top five.
A disclosure here: I became a University of Maryland employee, teaching journalism, in August. You should adjust your consideration of my coverage as you see fit, but my goal is to be an impartial observer of the team when writing about it.
There are few unknowns when it comes to the roster. The Terps return all five starters from a 26-3 team, including All-Big Ten first teamers Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller. Those two averaged better than 17 points a game last season. Katie Benzan, the nation’s leading three-point shooter, joins fellow graduate student Chloe Bibby on the wing. Terp fans are hoping for a full season for sophomore forward Angel Reese, who only played in 15 games last year due to a foot injury. Mimi Collins, a 6’3” redshirt junior who started in Reese’s place during conference play, gives the coaching staff the good problem of how to split time in the post. Frese called the Reese/Collins lineup decision the “number one question” for the coaching staff.
No one should be surprised by what the Terps are trying to do. For Maryland’s opponents, the choice last year often was between engaging in a shootout (Iowa) or trying to beat the them on the boards and limit offensive positions (Texas and Missouri State). Maryland’s offense was productive enough for it to join the UConn-dominated list of just 15 total teams since the 2009-10 season with a points per scoring attempt of 1.17 or greater. There are a few teams in the Big Ten that can keep pace with the Terps on offense, but, sadly for fans, there’s just one Iowa-Maryland matchup in the regular season, in Iowa City in February.
The expectations for Owusu and Miller, both juniors, are higher now, Frese said. “We’re really concentrating on pushing them to be better leaders.” Both players would force shots at times in their careers, but Frese said that Miller in particular had demonstrated in practice an ability to get her teammates more involved. “She’s finally really making decisions for other teammates,” she said.
Maryland’s roster currently goes 10 deep - at least until Channise Lewis, a pass-first point guard who missed all but nine games last year with an ACL injury, is cleared to return - but that wasn’t a huge issue last season. The bench will be led by Faith Masonius, a 6’1” junior who sometimes played three positions, and either Reese or Collins (both will get loads of minutes either way). A healthy Lewis would be a useful option in relief of Owusu.
The Terps added two freshmen, both in the 6-foot, multi-position role that has come to the fore in Frese’s recent squads. The one likely to see more playing time is Shyanne Sellers, who at 6’2” is listed as a guard and is the daughter of former NBA player Brad Sellers. Emma Chardon, a 6’2” forward, was playing with the Swiss national team this summer and was a later arrival to the program.
Two players from last season won’t be suiting up for Maryland this year. Sophomore guard Zoe Young, a former Iowa high school player of the year, opted to end her playing career and became a student assistant, while Alaysia Styles, a graduate transfer who provided solid minutes off the bench as a defender and rebounder, joined Syracuse in May. Sellers could move into the role Styles played a year ago.
Come March, the Terrapins fully expect to be heading into a deep NCAA Tournament run fueled by the approach that made them successful a year ago. As much as the loss to Texas remains in the forefront, it wasn’t a completely novel approach by the Longhorns that did the trick. Maryland struggled the most last season when it could not spread the ball around on offense and was forced into one-on-one plays. Texas, Missouri State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan and Northwestern either beat or frustrated Maryland in part by limiting them to less than 17 assists a game.
Last year, that meant Owusu or Miller creating their own shots. How well they handle similar situations will go a long way in determining whether Maryland ends its season with another earlier-than-expected tournament exit or finishes the assignment.