Know Thy Enemy is a Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State's opponent. This week, The State News' women's basketball beat writer Sara Tidwell spoke with Varun Shankar of The Diamondback ahead of Thursday’s UMD and MSU game.
Michigan State women's basketball had quite the victorious run on the East coast, dominating both Penn State and Rutgers to extend their win streak against Big Ten opponents. Next on the docket is No. 17 Maryland, MSU's third ranked rival this season.
In the Big Ten, MSU is slotted at No. 6, just below Maryland at No. 5. A win today could push them further into the light of being on the NCAA tournament bubble. According to Charlie Creme's report at ESPN, the women's bracketology has six Big Ten teams already in the 68-team bracket, including Maryland with a No. 6 seed against Princeton, a No. 11 seed, in Storrs, Connecticut.
The Spartans are 12-8 overall and 6-3 in conference. The Terrapins are 15-6 overall and 7-3 in conference.
Q: At No. 5 in-conference and No. 17 overall, what has UMD been doing well? What have they been struggling with? Biggest strengths and weaknesses?
A: At times, Maryland’s offense looks disjointed compared to a team that was an all-time great scoring unit a year ago. But don’t let that fool you into thinking this isn’t a great attack. The Terps offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 111.3 is the second best mark in the nation, and they’ve kept that offensive pace up despite a much tougher schedule that has already featured seven AP Top 25 opponents, five of which were in the top-10.
In the backcourt, junior guard Ashley Owusu, graduate guard Katie Benzan, and junior guard Diamond Miller are all shooting above 36 percent from behind the three-point arc. In the front court, sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese brings a new flavor to the team’s offense, feasting down low with offensive rebounds and putbacks and graduate forward/guard Chloe Bibby’s finally moved back to a more natural power forward position where she’s pick-and-popped teams to submission.
Off the bench, redshirt junior forward Mimi Collins has struggled with injuries after a breakout season last year but freshman guard Shyanne Sellers has been a revelation, shooting threes at a 34 percent clip and averaging almost two steals per game.
The Maryland defense isn’t an elite unit, giving up 93.2 points per 100 possessions. It’s flashed at times, including limiting No. 1 South Carolina to 66 points, but struggles with consistency and limiting three-point shots as teams shoot just under 35 percent from deep against the Terps.
Q: Are the Terrapins missing anyone due to COVID-19 or injury like the Spartans are? If so, who?
A: Graduate guard Channise Lewis has not played since last year’s ACL and meniscus tears and announced she will not return this season. Junior guard/forward Faith Masonius is out for the season with a torn ACL suffered earlier this year, while Collins is dealing with nagging groin and toe injuries.
Q: MSU tends to come out of the gate slow and gain speed as the clock ticks. They are famous this season for second half, especially fourth quarter, revivals under players like senior guard Nia Clouden or freshman forward Matilda Ekh. Where and what does UMD need to do to capture and extend a bold lead over the green and white?
A: On offense, Maryland needs to move the ball. It’s simple, but the best games the Terps have had saw them swing the ball around the perimeter to get good shots at the rim, which in turn opened up their drive-and-kick game to free knockdown shooters like Benzan and Bibby behind the arc.
Defensively, their energy and attention to detail have to be precise as they switch on screens or rotate in their zones. If they force missed shots it’ll allow them to use their transition game, getting dominant fastbreak players like Owusu out in the open for quick buckets.
Q: What does MSU need to do to slow down Owusu and Miller, who were ranked No. 10 and No. 12 respectively on the ESPN Top-25 players in the nation list 3 months back? What about Reese, who was recently named to the Wooden Award Late Season Top-20 list?
A: If you’re playing Owusu, you’re going to need a defender with quick feet to get into position and the strength to not be plowed over by the junior. Force her into contested mid-rangers, she can still hit those but they’re harder than layups. Switch up the defensive scheme as well, throw in different looks because if you stick with just one, Owusu’s too smart not to pick it apart.
With Miller, there’s less you can do because of how diverse her skillset is. The best bet might be to throw multiple defenders at her, although she’s shown at times to be an adept passer with four assists in each of her last four games.
Reese is an interesting case because she struggled mightily with foul trouble and fatigue earlier in the season, but those problems have reduced as the season continued. Being diligent about box outs can prevent her from offensive rebounds, but keeping her off the glass might be a matter of trying to get those foul problems to crop backup.
Q: What is your score prediction and why?
A: The last few games with this matchup have always been oddly close, but the Terps are coming off a couple solid wins and are rested. I think they’ll race out to an early lead and win 86-65.
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