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Maryland women's basketball looks to wrap up perfect B1G season at Northwestern

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It's No. 20 vs. No. 8 as the Terps seek to end Northwestern's eight-game winning streak and put a bow of 18-0 perfection on their B1G championship by notching their 21st consecutive win.

Kai Buck Dambach

WHO: Maryland Terrapins (26-2, 17-0) @ Northwestern Wildcats (22-6, 12-5)

WHAT: Women's basketball B1G Conference game

WHERE: Welsh-Ryan Arena, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

WHEN: Sunday, March 1, 2015 1:00 p.m. ET

WATCH: In Person

STREAM: BTN2GO

Why the Wildcats?

"Wildcat" is somewhat generic and doesn't carry the cachet of being able to write about it's anal scent glands (a la the Wolverines) or it supplanting Bugeaters (see Cornhuskers, Nebraska) as a nickname or mascot.

Here's what Northwestern's athletic site has to say about the school's mascot:

The first mascot was a live, caged bear cub from the Lincoln Park Zoo named Furpaw. In Fall 1923, Furpaw was driven to the playing field to greet the fans before each game. After a losing season, the team decided that Furpaw was the harbinger of bad luck and banished him from campus.

The name "Wildcats" was bestowed upon the university in 1924 by a writer for the Chicago Tribune who wrote that even in a loss to the University of Chicago Maroons, the Northwestern football players looked like "Wildcats [that] had come down from Evanston." The name was so popular that university board members eventually made "Wildcats" the official nickname.

Initially, Northwestern's teams were called the "Fighting Methodists" in deference to the religious affiliation of the university's founders. (I would have opted for "Rhythm Methodists" but...) From 1892 until the change to Wildcats became official sometime between 1924 and 1933, the teams had a different name.

In 1933, the Northwestern athletic department and an advertising firm created the first image of Willie. He did not actually come to life until 1947, when members of the Alpha Delta fraternity dressed up as him during the Homecoming parade.

Mascot and Colors

In two displays of brilliant originality, Northwestern shares their chosen mascot with nine other NCAA Division I athletics programs. It's the fourth most common mascot behind Tigers (3), Eagles (2), and Bulldogs (1). Additionally, the "Wildcat" mascots of Northwestern and Kansas State share the name Willie.

Some among you may be surprised to learn that Northwestern shares something with one of the conference's two newest members and simultaneously provides Maryland Terrapins fans an added reason to dislike the Wildcats. While Maryland's most familiar color combination is red and white, the university and the state flag, also hew to a long tradition of black and gold. Black and gold were Northwestern's original colors.

However, in 1892, some people at the private institution decreed that the black and gold combination was too popular. A committee (of course, a committee) was formed and selected purple as the university's official color. From that point until the change to Wildcats in the 1930s, the teams were known as the Northwestern Purple. (The "different name" mentioned above.)

Wildcats on the court - 2014-15

(Note: Unless otherwise stated, all rankings shown are RPI.)

It's the last game of the regular season and one might think we should have a clear reading on one's opponent. And perhaps we finally do have such a reading for the Wildcats. They seem to have shaken off some of their early season inconsistency, including a one-point loss at Penn State, and will enter the game with Maryland having put together eight straight wins. This includes wins at home -- where they are 11-2 -- over No. 36 Minnesota, No. 32 Nebraska and their recent 20-point dismantling of No. 40 Rutgers.

Northwestern has played nine games where the final margin has been six points (two possessions) or less. They have a record of 6-3 in those games. In addition to Penn State, their losses came 80-75 at No. 10 Arizona State and 102-99 in a classic at home to No. 8 Iowa.

Northwestern is in the top five of nearly every statistical measurement whether the measuring stick is the season as a whole, the conference season only or their eight-game winning streak. The notable exceptions are rebounding -- where the Wildcats are 11th grabbing 3.2 fewer rebounds (4.6 fewer in conference play) than their opponents -.- and free throw shooting where their 72.2 percent in league play is only ninth best.

Northwestern scores 71.6 points per game (PPG) in conference play at an efficiency of 0.97 points per possession (PPP). These numbers have remained relatively consistent over their current winning streak and are good for fourth or fifth in the league. The Wildcats have shown the greatest improvement on the defensive end of the floor. In all conference games, their opponents average 67.3 PPG and 0.89 PPP. Over their eight-game streak, those numbers have dropped to 62.1 and 0.84 respectively. (Eliminating the Iowa game as a statistical aberration, they have still shaved three PPG off their conference opponents scoring average in the eight game span.)

Northwestern excels in two areas that should concern the Terps. They force more than 17 turnovers per game, second best in the B1G, and do not turn over the ball much themselves. They average just 13.3 turnovers per game in conference play and have reduced that to 12 during the winning streak. That margin of plus five is second best in the league. Despite a general lack of size, the Wildcats are the second-best shot blocking team in the Big Ten, averaging about six per game. The Terps see about four of their shots blocked in a typical game

Players to watch

Nia Coffey #10, sophomore, forward, 6'1". Coffey leads Northwestern in scoring at 15.9 PPG and has maintained that in conference play where her average dips by only 0.6 PPG. Coffey is also the Wildcats' leading rebounder at 9.1 per game but she averages 10 per game in conference play. The do-everything wing also adds nearly two steals per contest.

Maggie Lyon, #25, junior, guard 6'1". Lyon is Northwestern's second leading scorer at 14.2 PPG (14.8 B1G). She is also their most dangerous outside threat. For the season, she connects on 42.2 percent of her three point attempts and is third in the conference in three point shots made.

History

Sunday will be the first meeting between Maryland and Northwestern. Although Maryland head coach Brenda Frese didn't face the Wildcats during her time at the helm of Ball State, she did face them once in her sole season as the head coach at Minnesota. That game resulted in an 86-78 win for the Golden Gophers at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

What's at stake

As nearly as I can tell, not a lot is at stake with respect to Big Ten tournament seeding for either squad. Win or lose, Maryland has won the conference championship and has the top seed. Northwestern looks to have secured no worse than the fourth seed.

In my look at this weekend's games, Iowa will be the number two seed unless they lose at home to Minnesota and Ohio State wins on the road at Nebraska. In that scenario, both teams will finish 13-5 and the second tiebreaker will come into play since OSU and Iowa split their two regular season games.

In the above situation, should Northwestern upset Maryland, the Wildcats would join OSU and Iowa at 13-5. However, Northwestern would receive the fourth seed since they lost their regular season meetings to both schools. There is, as nearly as my somewhat cursory examination could find, only one outcome that would move Northwestern into the third seed and that is for Northwestern to beat Maryland and Ohio State to lose at Nebraska.

Of course, these top teams are also playing for NCAA seeding. Although the Wildcats have five wins against the RPI top 50, they are 0-3 against RPI top 25 teams and a late season win against No. 7 Maryland could be a significant resume builder.

The Terrapins are playing to become only the third team in B1G women's basketball history to finish a season undefeated. Maryland is also playing to keep alive their slim hopes of gaining a number one seed in the NCAA tournament and, while they need some help to land that spot, they certainly won't if they fail to win on Sunday and sweep the B1G tournament as well.

In conclusion

Wildcats head coach Joe McKeown (formerly at George Washington) generally uses a seven-player rotation and gets very balanced scoring. Four of his five starters average 10 points or more as does Lauren Douglas who comes off the bench to play about 21 minutes per game. The fifth starter, 6'5" senior center Alex Cohen adds 8.6 points. Ashley Deary will run the point where she averages nearly five assists per game and has a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio.

Sunday, of course, will be Northwestern's Senior Day and, like Maryland's, it will be a relatively brief one. The Wildcats have only two seniors on their roster -- starting center Alex Cohen and reserve Guard Carly Roser. Roser has been in McKeown's regular rotation and has started six games. She may start ahead of Christen Inman on Sunday.

I've written this at least twice before this season, but someone's winning streak will end Sunday. Northwestern has won eight straight and Maryland 20. A ninth straight win for the Wildcats would be the signature win of their season. A 21st straight win for the Terrapins would put them in exclusive company with the 1998-99 Purdue team that went 16-0 in the conference before going on to capture the national championship and the 1984-85 Ohio State squad that won all 18 of its conference games.

How close does GAMER think this game will be? Well, the system puts Maryland's probability of winning at 50.1 percent and projects a one point Terrapins win. So, pretty close, I'd say.