On Sunday, Maryland's Women's basketball team will try to continue their excellent season and secure a spot in the Elite Eight as they take on the Aggies of Texas A&M at 12:04 PM. If you want to talk about the game, this post will also double as a game-thread, so feel free to chat away as the game plays out on ESPN.
Maryland, the #2 seed in the Raleigh Region, beat Louisville on Monday, 72-68. In that game, ACC player of the year Alyssa Thomas scored just six points after getting in foul trouble. Fortunately for the Terps, sophomore guard Laurin Mincy (24 pts, 7 rebs) and junior forward Tianna Hawkins (15 pts, 14 rebs) stepped up big time to help propel Maryland to their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2009, when they ironically lost to Louisville in the Elite Eight.
The game was much closer than most expected, with eleven lead changes and seven ties throughout the game. Maryland was up by just two with 1:37 left to play and after a somewhat chaotic final minute, pulled out the victory by four.
Maryland will now face the #3 seed Texas A&M Aggies, the defending national champs, who defeated Arkansas, the #6 seed, 61-59 on Monday. A&M also struggled with putting away their opponent. The Aggies led by as many as 14 before Arkansas came fighting back and even took the lead towards the end of the game. But A&M was able to escape and advance and now faces a Maryland team who's won nine in a row and hasn't lost since February 12th.
The Aggies have several players who can score effectively, led by senior guard Tyra White. White, who's been dealing with a foot injury that limited her play in the Big 12 Tournament, averages 13.5 points per game this season. But in their opening round game, she led A&M with 18 points and seven rebounds in their win over Albany. Against Arkansas, White only attempted two shoots and finished with just three points. But fellow senior Adaora Elonu picked up the scoring slack, as the 6'1" forward finished with a game-high 23 points. On the rebounding side, Maryland will have to contend with 6'4" junior center Kelsey Bone, who pulled down a game-high 10 boards in the win over Arkansas.
So how does Maryland match up with Texas A&M?
One of Maryland's biggest strengths this season has been rebounding. Nationally, the Terps are the 2nd best team when it comes to rebounding margin. And as you can see by the chart below, three of the four #1 seeds in this year's NCAA Tournament rank in the top ten in this category.
NCAA® Women's Basketball - Division I - Rebound Margin - Through Games 03/23/2012
|Rank||Name||GM||W-L||REB||RPG||OPP REB||OPP RPG||Margin|
|10||St. Mary's (CA)||33||22-11||1401||42.5||1100||33.3||
(courtesy of NCAA.org)
As you can see, there is a good correlation between teams who've been very successful this season and rebounding margin. Baylor, Stanford, and UConn, all number one seeds, are all in the top 10. Notre Dame, the forth #1 seed, is ranked #11. So where does Texas A&M appear on this list? They're 71st, meaning that one of the biggest keys to victory for Maryland is to make sure that they control the glass. In two of Maryland's four losses this season, they've been out rebounded by their competition (Miami and Duke). As this AP/ESPN preview article notes, those are the only two times Maryland has been out rebounded all season.
But rebounding margin isn't the only area where Maryland has a seemingly large advantage over A&M. The Terps also have one of the most proficient scoring offenses, averaging 78 points per game, which is 4th best in the nation.
NCAA® Women's Basketball - Division I - Scoring Offense - Through Games 03/23/2012
(courtesy of NCAA.org)
Where do the Aggies rank on that list? Again, they rank 71st, with 67.6 point per game.
As long as Maryland can effectively rebound and run their offense, they should be able to defeat Texas A&M on Sunday. However, one area where Texas A&M does have an advantage over Maryland is in turnover margin. The Aggies rank 48th nationally while Maryland ranks 121st. If the Aggies can force Maryland to turn the ball over and convert those into points, it could help neutralize the rebounding advantage that Maryland has and make this game much closer.
If I had to make an educated guess, I'd say Maryland wins the game by about six. A&M has a lot of experience on their team and they know what it takes to win in this tournament. But I think they'll struggle to contain Thomas and if they decide to focus on stopping her, Maryland has shown that they have players capable of stepping in to fill up the box score.
If Maryland advances, they'll take on the winner of the Notre Dame - St. Bonaventure game on Monday.