MSU women's basketball head coach Suzy Merchant, who was headed into her 9th season at the helm, knew this team was special when she set the bar at the beginning of the 2015-16 season.
“We’re big, we’re athletic and we’re ready to come out this year,” Merchant said to a crowded Breslin Center at Midnight Madness on October 23. “And if everything goes our way, we hope to bring a title back home with us.”
Well after an 82-63 blowout victory against the No. 2-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, the Spartans are there—they are playing for a Big Ten title.
In order for Merchant to follow through on her promise, the only obstacle that stands in her way is Maryland, the No. 1 seed in this year’s Big Ten Tournament.
What the Terrapins bring to the table
Maryland, who has been arguably one of the best teams in the country since the beginning of the year, began the season ranked No. 9 and never dropped below that. By the end of the regular season Maryland had moved up to No. 5 in the AP Poll, and for good reason.
Going into their Big Ten semifinals game against No. 12-seeded Northwestern, the Terrapins boasted a +24.4 scoring margin, which led the Big Ten by far and ranks third in the country. The next highest was OSU with a +13.3 margin and then the Spartans with a +12.5 scoring differential.
Maryland’s dominance is also one of the best in the country. In the regular season they averaged 84.4 points per game, which was good enough for second in the conference, only trailing Ohio State.
“Coming in we know Maryland is a good team,” senior center Jasmine Hines said, “I mean the Big Ten is a great conference. But we are kind of looking for redemption just because the first time around when we played Maryland we didn’t necessarily play our best.”
The last contest between the Terrapins and the Spartans ended in Maryland’s favor, an 85-76 win in College Park, Maryland. For the Spartans, the meetup came at a time in which the team played four games in eight days, a span branded by the players as “warrior week”. Junior guard Aerial Powers led MSU’s scoring effort with 31 points that day.
Following their victory against No. 2-seeded Ohio State, the Spartans are now on a season long six-game win streak. In those six games, Powers is averaging 28.8 points per game and junior guard Tori Jankoska is averaging 15.5 points per game.
Consistency and contributions from Jankoska and sophomore guard Branndais Agee will be key for the Spartans heading into the Big Ten Championship Game. MSU has proven that they can compete with the best in the conference with two wins over OSU, but if MSU wants a legitimate chance at the Big Ten championship, it will have to play with plenty of energy and urgency, similar to the way the Spartans started Saturday against OSU. If the Spartans come out looking like they did against Purdue, Maryland’s elite offense will capitalize on every mental mistake made by the Spartans.
“I think this is a big challenge for us,” Powers said. “And it will just show us kind of where we place when it comes to NCAA Tournament, because they always get far. As a championship game, it would be nice to win one, especially under Coach Suzy. But it's excitement all over. Honestly, I think I'm going to be up all night thinking about it.”
Tip-off against the Terrapins is set for 7 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on ESPN.
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