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Maryland women's basketball travels to Michigan State looking to sweep the Spartans

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Maryland routed Michigan State 85-56 in College Park. The teams meet again Monday in East Lansing. Should the Terps win? Yes. Can the Spartans turn it around? Ask Tom Crean whose IU squad saw a 19-point home win dissolve into a two-point road loss.

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Maryland Terrapins (22-2, 13-0) @ Michigan State Spartans (12-13, 4-10)

WHAT: Women's basketball B1G Conference game

WHERE: Breslin Events Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich.

WHEN: Monday, February 16, 2015 7:00 p.m. ET

WATCH: In Person



Every Big Ten team has some degree of pride and the Michigan State Spartans are no exception. Much to the consternation of coach Suzy Merchant, Maryland handed her Spartans squad their most lopsided defeat of the season -- an 85-56 drubbing a little less than a month ago in College Park. If pride isn't enough motivation simply playing a team the second time around is almost always tougher. One need only look at Nebraska narrowing the margin by 16 against the women or the 21-point turnaround by Mark Turgeon's men's squad in their rematch with Indiana for confirmation. And this time, Michigan State has the home court advantage.

Here are the principal dangers:

As with their trip to Penn State, the Terps must guard against overconfidence. Michigan State has a losing record. Maryland routed them by 29 points the first time the teams played. A second win should be easy, right? Well, yes it should be and it will be as long as the Terps stay focused in the present and play to their abilities.

Two other elements to watch for are defense and rebounding. The Spartans played zone defense against the Terrapins in the game at College Park and because State has such a short bench, Maryland should expect to see more of the same in East Lansing. Maryland has not been among the better three point shooting teams in the B1G, connecting on only 33 percent for the season. However, the Terps did appear to regain their touch making five of 11 long range shots against Rutgers and they have had nearly a week off to refresh their legs.

Even though they play mainly zone defense and have lost some of their front court players to injury, Michigan State is the second-best rebounding team by rebounding margin in the Big Ten behind Maryland. For the season, the Spartans average 7.1 more rebounds than their opponents and have a plus 3.4 margin in B1G play. As a point of reference, Rutgers at plus 0.7 in league play, out rebounded the Terps by three in the most recent game at College Park.

Since the first meeting - The Spartans' offense

After losing to Maryland, Michigan State returned to their home court and promptly won two in a row topping 70 points in their wins over Wisconsin and Indiana. They followed that mini-streak with a three game losing streak in which they topped 70 only once -- at Minnesota. Most recently, they broke the 70-point barrier in a win at Penn State.

The Spartans have been consistent in their scoring and efficiency. For the season, they average 68.9 points per game (PPG) and have improved only slightly, averaging 69.8 PPG over the six games since the first matchup. In terms of efficiency, the Spartans score at 0.93 points per possession (PPP). That figure is unchanged over the six games since their first meeting with the Terps.

Since the first meeting - Michigan State's defense

Defense has not been a hallmark of this Spartans team. For the season, they sit eighth in the Big Ten, conceding 65.4 PPG. In conference play, they are the sixth stingiest team at 69.6 PPG, but in the six games since the first Maryland contest, their opponents have scored 72.4 PPG which is only 10th best in the conference over that span of games.

As one would imagine, their defensive efficiency has also suffered. For the season, Michigan State's opponents have scored 0.87 PPP -- also sixth best in the league. However, in post-Maryland games only, that number has soared to 0.96 PPP which is only 10th best in the Big Ten.

Players to watch

The players to watch list hasn't changed since the preview of the first contest. Although 6'4" forward/center Becca Mills (#52) has emerged as a strong complimentary rebounder to Aerial Powers, Maryland's antennae should be focused on the Spartans' number 23. The 6'2" Powers is quite simply one of the best and most versatile players in the Big Ten. She is second in the conference in scoring at 22.6 PPG and leads the Big Ten with 11.9 rebounds per game.

In their first game, Maryland had no answer for Powers who scored half of her team's 56 points and added 16 rebounds. In the six games since, Powers has scored 23, 28, 25, 25, 31 and 26. In addition to her 26.4 scoring average over that stretch, she's rebounded at a clip of 13.2 per game. She's the sort of player who can dominate a game.

When Powers isn't scoring, it's likely that Tori Jankowska (#1) is. The 5'8" sophomore guard scores 17 PPG for the season but has averaged 18.6 for the Spartans since the teams played College Park. These two account for more than 64 percent of Michigan State's scoring. While Powers is a capable three point shooter, particularly for someone her size, Jankowska is State's principal threat from deep where she connects on 36.2 percent of her shots. The sophomore has been very hot over the last six games making 15 of her 37 attempts -- a 40.5 percent clip.

The big finish

Five regular season games remain for Maryland. Four of those games are against teams outside the top 100 in RPI and Michigan State is the first of those. In truth, all four are games Maryland should win and win easily and Michigan State should be the first of those.

Michigan State's offense has devolved into essentially a two player show -- Powers and Jankowska. The Terps are deeper, bigger and more talented than the current edition of the Spartans. State coach Merchant is suffering through a season similar to the one Maryland and coach Frese faced two years ago. Merchant has only eight players on her roster -- one of whom is a volleyball player -- and the bulk of the playing time is divided among six players.

As they did in College Park, Maryland needs to push the pace and attack the Michigan State zone. In the first game, the Terps got to the free throw line 19 times and got double-figure scoring from both Brionna Jones (12) and Malina Howard (10). They were also efficient from outside the arc, making six of 15 from long range, finishing with five players in double figures.

While the Terps almost assuredly have bigger goals, a win Monday night assures them of a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Further, if my memory and math are correct, the win would assure them of no worse than the number two seed. Here's my reasoning: A win Monday assures the Terps of a record no worse than 14-4. Only Rutgers (10-4 but lost twice to Maryland) and Iowa (11-2) have four or fewer conference losses.

Rutgers can plausibly win their four remaining games (Illinois, @MSU, @NW, Indiana) to also finish 14-4 but the Terps should hold the tiebreaker by virtue of the season sweep. Iowa would need to win four of their last five to pass the Terps. A 3-2 record to would give them the same 14-4 record but again, Maryland has the head-to-head win in the event of a tie. Of course, if the Terps continue to win, all this speculation is needless.

According to the GAMER prediction, Maryland should leave East Lasing with their 17th consecutive win and their perfect record in B1G play intact. It posits a 69.8 percent probability of a Terps win and expects a double-digit margin of victory.