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Maryland women's basketball preview: Terps square off against Syracuse

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Top-5 Terps hope to stay undefeated as they take on Syracuse in the B1G-ACC Challenge at Xfinity Center.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland women’s basketball is 6-0, and the Terps currently find themselves ranked no. 5 in the AP Poll. This is a 3-spot jump from last week, thanks to their wining the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, V.I. The team routed Old Dominion, squeaked past South Dakota State and systematically dismantled Pittsburgh in the final. Tonight, the Terps return home to take part in the annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge, in which they will play Syracuse.

Now, when you think of Syracuse basketball, Jim Boeheim and the men’s squad come to mind, and rightfully so. The women’s team has long been overshadowed in the Big East by Connecticut, Notre Dame, Rutgers and others. But under head coach Quentin Hillsman, the program is on the rise. The current bunch is ranked 20th in the country, and its only loss thus far was at Tennessee, then ranked 4th, by a score of 57-55.

The game will be on Big Ten Network; it’s Maryland's first nationally televised contest of the year. After the men’s team lost last night at UNC, a win by the women has a chance re-energize campus a little bit. But if the Terps aren’t careful, they too could suffer their first loss of the season.

Syracuse Orange (4-1)

The coach

Quentin Hillsman. In his 10th season at the helm for the Orange, Hillsman boasts a 189-108 career record. In 2008, he was named the Big East coach of the year. His teams have had a winning record every year since, and are coming off three straight NCAA tournament appearances. He has a reputation as a great recruiter; his 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes were both ranked in the top 10 nationally. This game is a homecoming of sorts for Hillsman, as he played college basketball in the state at St. Mary’s from 1990-93.

Players to know

Alexis Peterson, junior, guard, 5’7, No. 1. Led the Orange in scoring last year with 16.2 ppg. So far this year, she’s at 15.2, but she also leads the team with 5.6 assists and a whopping 4.6 steals. It’s safe to say Brene Moseley Chloe Pavlech have their work cut out for them.

Brianna Butler, senior, guard, 5’11, No. 13. A 4-year starter and very high-volume shooter. Butler leads all active players with 242 career 3-pointers made, but when you consider that she jacked up 323 of them last year, that shouldn’t be such a surprise. She’s 18 of 64 this year (28.1%). She’s also a career 80% free throw shooter.

Brittney Sykes, redshirt junior, guard, 5’9, No. 20. Sykes and Butler were both All-Americans in high school; they’re only the third and fourth such players to commit to Syracuse. Sykes led the team with 16.6 ppg as a sophomore, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game of last season. She’s back, and is currently third on the team behind Peterson and Butler with 11.2 ppg.

Brianna Day, junior, center, 6’4, No. 50. Easily the toughest assignment for Brionna Jones so far this young season. Day tallied 10.4 boards a night last year, nearly half of which were on the offensive glass. This year, she’s averaging 7.6 rebounds and 2 blocks. Her backup? Twin sister Bria (No. 55).

Cornelia Fondren, senior, guard, 5’8, No. 11. Another guard! Fondren gives the Orange an energy boost off the bench. While the other three guards do most of the scoring, Fondren has racked up 7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game thus far. Syracuse has been running out 4-guard lineups in stretches this season; it’ll be interesting to see if they continue that against a tall Terps team.

Strength

Free-throw shooting. Syracuse is shooting 72% from the line this year. Butler and Peterson, who is excellent at driving and drawing fouls, are above 75% for their careers. Day, meanwhile, is 16 of 18 this year but a career sub-65% shooter.

Weakness

Size. A 4-guard lineup isn’t the key to success against Maryland. There’s a chance that Brenda Frese can go big and simply overpower this team, even with one or both of the Days guarding the hoop.

Thomas’ Prediction: Maryland, 66-58.