WHO: Nebraska Cornhuskers (17-5, 7-4) @Maryland Terrapins (20-2, 11-0)
WHAT: Women's basketball B1G Conference game
WHERE: Xfinity Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
WHEN: Sunday, February 8, 2015 4:00 p.m. ET
WATCH: In Person
Unpredictability. One reason we love watching sports is that every season, every game begins with an element of unpredictability. I had a very different story in mind when I began gathering the information I'd need to write the preview of the second meeting of the season between the Maryland women's basketball team and their counterparts from Nebraska.
At the time, Nebraska had recovered from their lopsided home loss to Maryland to win seven of eight games behind a stingy defense and a somewhat revitalized offense. Then, the Cornhuskers landed in Piscataway, N.J., and several things -- mainly my story line and Nebraska's revitalized offense -- popped. The Scarlet Knights handed the Cornhuskers a 46-43 defeat.
I grew up as a baseball fan and I, unlike many people I know, love a good pitcher's duel. Conversely, in regard to basketball, I generally do not like watching a defensive battle. Thus, my scouting for this game may be hampered by the fact that I couldn't bring myself to watch even parts of that Nebraska-Rutgers game. When I looked at the box score and saw that the teams combined to miss 93 of 127 shots, I simply shuddered and decided not to subject myself to watching what appears to be the basketball equivalent of Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Since the first meeting - The offense
Even with the loss at Rutgers Thursday night, Nebraska has won Seven of 9 since playing Maryland. Over that span, they generally played a bit better offensively than they had earlier in the season. However, as you can imagine, every aspect of their offensive stats took something of a hit because of the Rutgers performance. Here's an example: In the first eight games since the loss to the Terrapins, the Cornhuskers averaged a league leading 1.402 assist to turnover ratio while the Terps were third at 1.339. Adding that ninth game drops Nebraska to 1.302 (third) and moves Maryland to second (1.332).
In some other eight-game versus nine-game measures, their scoring average plummeted from 70.8 to 66.9, in field goal percentage from 44.2 to 41.5, offensive efficiency from 0.98 points per possession to 0.94 PPP, and effective field goal percentage from 48.3 to 45.5. Although they didn't meet some of their season averages, the Terps' game at Penn State didn't have a similarly disproportionate impact on their overall stats.
In fact, Maryland's slightly diminished offensive numbers are likely due in part to head coach Brenda Frese choosing to make her most conspicuous use of the Terps' depth since the game against Michigan State. With her squad in the middle of a stretch of playing four games in nine days, the starters played only 127 combined minutes.
Since the first meeting - The defense
The game at Rutgers had precisely the opposite impact on Nebraska's defense. Over the eight game stretch leading up to Thursday night, the Cornhuskers led the Big Ten in fewest points allowed (61.4) and in defensive efficiency yielding only 0.85 PPP. Their effort at Rutgers improved the former to 59.7 and the latter to 0.82. They still lead the league in fewest points allowed, but are now tied with Rutgers in D-PPP.
Over the similar eight-game period, Maryland allowed 66.6 points per game and 0.90 D-PPP. Those numbers tick down slightly when including the Penn State game. Points allowed drops 66.1 and D-PPP moves down to 0.89.
Players to watch
In the preview of the first contest, I focused on Rachel Theriot (#33) and Emily Cady (#23). Since that time, 5'9" senior guard Tear'a Laudermill (#1) has elevated her game and become the Cornhuskers' top scoring option. In the nine games, she averages 14.7 per game just a touch better than Theriot's 14.5. Laudermill has also become extremely pesky on the defensive side of the court. During that time, she has picked up 24 of her team leading 34 steals
The big finish
Here are three cautionary notes for the Terrapins:
(1) Avoid overconfidence. Much has changed since the 28-point rout in Lincoln. Though four of her starters average over 30 minutes per game, head coach Connie Yori has a bit more depth this time around mainly in the person of freshman Chandler Smith who averages about nine minutes per game.
(2) Avoid overconfidence. While they are far from the most potent or efficient offensive team in the B1G, the Huskers are coming off a game in which they shot 22 percent and made just five of 30 three-point shots. A repeat is unlikely. Regression toward the mean is more likely.
(3) Avoid overconfidence. Nebraska has shown themselves to be a shutdown defensive squad. Though they lost 78-72 in overtime at Iowa, the Cornhuskers held the high scoring Hawkeyes to just 61 points in regulation. In the first half of that game, they limited Iowa to 25.8 percent shooting before wearing down midway through the second half and into the extra period.
Although Nebraska can bring 6'5" Allie Havers into play, the sophomore has not been overly productive. She averages about 12 minutes per game in league play and contributes about five points and three rebounds. The Huskers other inside presence is the 6'2" Cady who averages a double double for the season. The Terps have a significant size advantage at every position and should exploit that particularly at home.
No statistical model predicts a high probability of a Nebraska win. Most predict a Terrapins rout. The GAMER system I have referenced throughout the season predicts a 76.6 percent probability that Maryland will win and it posits a comfortable double digit victory for the home standing Terps. But sports can be unpredictable. That's why we watch.