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Maryland women's basketball quest for perfection continues - previewing rematch with Penn State

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The undisputed Big Ten Champion Maryland women's basketball team looks to remain perfect in conference play when they host the Penn State Lady Lions Monday night at the Xfinity Center.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Maryland Terrapins (24-2, 15-0) @ Penn State Nittany Lions (6-20, 3-12)

WHAT: Women's basketball B1G Conference game

WHERE: Xfinity Center, University of Maryland, College Park, Md.

WHEN: Monday, February 23, 2015 7:00 p.m. ET

WATCH: In Person

TV: BTN

STREAM: BTN2Go

Little has changed in the performances of the Maryland Terrapins and Penn State Lady Lions women's basketball teams in the two and a half weeks since the squads first met in a game that the Terps won 77-62 in State College. But the landscape is quite different.

As I write this, there is still enough of a logjam among the bottom six teams in the conference standings that the Lady Lions could possibly avoid finishing 11th or lower. In the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, teams that finish 11th through 14th will begin play on Wednesday and would have to win five games in five days to claim the conference's automatic bid. Teams five through 10 face a maximum of four games, while the top four teams need only play thrice.

The Terps, on the other hand, have already secured the top overall seed and outright Big Ten championship heading into the conference tourney in their first season in the league. Maryland is also looking to become the first B1G women's team to finish undefeated in conference play since Purdue went 16-0 in 1998-99.

Since the first meeting, the Terps have continued their roll through the Big Ten winning four straight -- two at home and two on the road -- while the Lady Lions have posted a 1-2 record. Both Penn State and Purdue sport 3-12 conference records but the Lady Lions have the tiebreaker edge by virtue of their recent 54-50 win in West Lafayette.

Lady Lions 2-06-15 to present

So little time has passed, and so little has changed since the first preview that I have simply replicated it here with any statistical changes noted in (bold parentheses).

Though they have played some tight games, nearly every statistical measure supports the notion of a struggling team. Through 22 (26) games, the Lady Lions are in the bottom three teams in the conference in every statistic except field goal percentage defense (6th), rebounding margin (4th) (5th), blocks (5th) (6th), and steals (10th). They score only 0.83 points per possession (PPP) with an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 41.7 (42.1 - now 13th), making them the least efficient offense among conference teams. They fare a little better defensively where they concede 0.93 ppp good for only 12th in the league. By contrast, Maryland scores 1.11 (1.10) PPP (1st), has a 52.4 (52.2) percent eFG% (2nd), and gives up 0.81 (0.83) PPP (3rd) (4th).

The view is even bleaker (though only marginally so) when limited to conference games only. They score fewer points per game (61.8 down from 64.0) and give up more (74.8 up from 70.8). Their offensive efficiency drops to 0.79 PPP and defensively they yield 0.99 PPP.

Head coach Coquese Washington, in her eighth season, primarily uses an eight-player rotation with only two players averaging more than 30 minutes per game. The Lady Lions are one of the few B1G teams that can match the Terps on the inside. Washington will likely start her "twin towers" -- 6'6" Candice Agee and 6'5" Tori Waldner. A pair of sophomores, 6'2" Kaliyah Mitchell and 6'3" Peyton Whitted, round out Penn State's front court rotation.

Players to watch

Lindsey Spann #12, redshirt freshman, guard, 5'6". Spann averages 14.6 (down from 14.9) points per game (PPG) and nearly matches that with 13.8 PPG (down from 14.0) in conference play. After scoring a team high 18 against Maryland, Spann again led the Lady Lions with 16 in their win over Purdue but has since seen her minutes decline and she played just 24 minutes and scored just six points in PSU's recent loss to Minnesota.

Kaliyah Mitchell, #15, sophomore, forward 6'2". Despite the presence of her two taller teammates, Mitchell still leads the Lady Lions in rebounding grabbing 7.1 boards per game. She managed only three rebounds against the Terps but has pulled down double-digit rebounds seven times this season most recently against Purdue.

In conclusion

The GAMER prediction model gives Penn State a 3.9 percent chance of winning the game meaning, of course, Maryland has a 96.1 percent chance of winning by this model. I will refrain from posting the projected score which is far more lopsided than I think it will be. Here's why:

Although they won back-to-back road games at Michigan State and Wisconsin, Maryland did so while not playing their best basketball. In their six-point win at Michigan State, the Terrapins were aided and abetted by the Spartans' dismal 7-of-18 performance from the free throw line. At Wisconsin, the Terps allowed the Badgers (8-17, 4-11) back into the game after repeatedly being on the verge of getting a blowout win. In both games, the home team outscored Maryland in the second half.

At this point, Maryland is playing for NCAA seeding while Penn State is looking to escape a Wednesday game in the conference tourney. The Lady Lions shouldn't have the talent or the depth to threaten Maryland -- particularly at Xfiniity Center. The challenge faced by Maryland's head coach and master motivator, Brenda Frese, lies in convincing her players that this is not the time in the season to coast and lose focus because once they enter tournament play, teams will make them pay for any lack of effort and execution and there is no opportunity to recover.