What's at stake
The Maryland women's basketball team begins the stretch run of their final ACC season Thursday night hosting the Florida State Seminoles at Comcast Center in an odd 8:30 pm start. The Terps, with their 8-4 record, currently sit tied for fourth in the ACC behind Notre Dame, Duke, and NC State. North Carolina is also 8-4 but Maryland holds the head to head advantage having beaten the Tar Heels early in the season. Finishing in the top four earns a double bye in the upcoming ACC Tournament and with the depth of the league this is important. Of Maryland's remaining four games, the first two provide what appear to be the two toughest challenges. In addition to FSU, Maryland travels to Georgia Tech and Boston College before closing the season at home against Virginia Tech. If the Terps can sweep all four games, they will likely finish third in the conference.
For all of the complaints about ACC scheduling this season, Maryland has the easiest road to finishing the season with four straight wins. Notre Dame hosts Wake Forest, Duke, and UNC while traveling to NC State. Duke hosts the Wolfpakck Thursday night and has to travel to Chapel Hill to close the season. In addition to facing Notre Dame on the road, UNC travels to Charlottesville Thursday night and the Terps learned what the Cavaliers are capable of at home.
For those not interested in doing the math, the best outcomes for Maryland will be for the Terps to win all four. Then for Duke to defeat NC State Thursday night and for the Wolfpack to fall to the Irish in their season ender. Though it's not necessary for a top three or even a top four finish, Terrapin fans should also hope for the Tar Heels to drop at least one of their games against the top two teams in the ACC standings as it would provide a bit of wiggle room for Maryland.
Sizing up the opponent
Florida State, expected by many to be a top twenty-five team when the season opened, enters the game with a disappointing 5-7 ACC record and they sit at 17-8 overall. They are coming off a tough 76-73 home loss to Miami and have dropped seven of their last ten. However, one of those three wins was a 24 point drubbing of Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. And just to demonstrate how tough the Seminoles can be when they put it all together, they took Duke to overtime in a game at Tallahassee before falling 85-77.
What they do well
As one would expect from a team with a losing record in league play and eight losses overall, there are few areas in which the Seminoles excel. However, they are third in the league with sixteen offensive rebounds per game. Overall, they are a solid team on the glass with a plus 6.4 rebounding margin for the season. They have some shot blockers down low and sit fifth in the ACC with nearly four per game. But the area where the Terrapins will need to have their greatest focus is protecting against Florida State steals. FSU is second in the league averaging nearly eleven per game.
What they don't do well
Florida State has some trouble scoring. They average just over seventy points per game placing them ninth in the ACC. They are among the worst three point shooting teams in the league connecting on under 28 percent from behind the arc and, on the season, only Notre Dame and Clemson have attempted fewer shots the bonussphere.
The Seminoles do'nt have a very deep bench. Coach Sue Semrau uses essentially a seven player rotation with three players averaging over thirty minutes per game led by point guard Yashira Delgado who plays over 37 minutes a night.
The Seminoles' unquestioned leader is senior forward Natasha Howard. The 6'3" forward from Toledo is among the top scorers in the ACC averaging 19 points per game, her nine rebounds a game place her in the top five and she's third in blocked shots with over 2.5 a night. Howard is also very efficient when she receives the ball in the post connecting on over 58 percent of her shots.
What to expect
The Terrapins should look to press the pace against the Seminoles using their depth to wear them down. In the post, look for the Terps to rotate several players against Howard when FSU has the ball and to try to get the ball inside and make her work on the defensive end. This is the beginning of an important stretch for Maryland and they should begin it on a winning note.