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Maryland women's basketball: First round NCAA Tournament preview vs. New Mexico State

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For the third time under head coach Brenda Frese, the Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team enters the NCAA Tournament as a top seed. The quest to become the first of those teams to reach the Final Four begins Saturday against New Mexico State.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

In case you've been distracted by all the hoopla, discussions and seeding controversy over the Maryland men's basketball team's first NCAA appearance under Mark Turgeon, let me remind you that the women's team will also be playing in the NCAA Tournament. And, while they aren't the equivalent of Kentucky's men's team, the Terrapins are, for the third time under head coach Brenda Frese, the top seed in their region.

The Terps will open play Saturday afternoon at the Xfinity Center against the 16th-seeded New Mexico Aggies. Before we look at the Aggies, let's take a look at a snapshot of Maryland's season.

How to watch:

WHO: New Mexico State Aggies (22-7, 13-1 WAC) @ Maryland Terrapins (30-2, 18-0 B1G)

WHAT: Women's basketball NCAA Tournament first round game

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

WHEN: Saturday, March 21, 2015 1:30 p.m. ET (approximate)

WATCH: In Person

TV: ESPN2

STREAM: ESPN3

Maryland's season

Maryland finished the season with a 30-2 record. Its two losses came in back-to-back games at the end of November and the beginning of December to Washington State and Notre Dame. The Terrapins haven't lost since that Dec. 3 night in Ft. Wayne, Ind., and their winning streak currently sits at a program-tying high of 24 games. Maryland's 18-0 march through through the Big Ten was only the third time a B1G women's basketball team completed an undefeated conference season. Of the two prior teams, only Purdue also won the conference tournament.

The Terps finished sixth in RPI and ranked 31st in strength of schedule. They finished 14-1 versus the RPI top 50 and 18-2 versus the top 100. Their scoring average of 80.2 points per game (ppg) topped the Big Ten and made them the sixth-highest scoring team in the country. Only six teams had a wider margin of victory than Maryland's 19.2.

By nearly any measure, the Terrapins are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. They average 1.09 points per possession (ppp), a figure that ties them for second with Notre Dame, but is still well behind the 1.23 ppp posted by Connecticut. Their effective field goal percentage (eFG%) is 51.3 percent and is eighth best nationally. They rank in the top five in true field goal percentage (55.9) and points per weighted shot (PPWS) at 1.101.

As fans have come to expect under Frese, Maryland is also among the nation's best rebounding squads, despite having no single player who averages more than 8.8 rebounds per game. The Terps rebounding margin of 11.2 is seventh best in the country and their rebound percentage at 57.9 is ninth best.

Who exactly are these Aggies?

The New Mexico State Aggies are the regular season and conference tournament champions of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). The WAC, since most of us in the East are likely unfamiliar with it, consists of the following seven teams in addition to New Mexico State: Cal State Bakersfield, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, Seattle, Texas Pan-American, University of Missouri Kansas City and Utah Valley. The university is in Las Cruces, N.M. which is in the southwestern part of the state and is about 50 miles north of El Paso, Texas.

In 2013-14, the Aggies finished 11-20 and 7-9 and when they opened the current season with five-straight losses, looked to be on a similar path. However, since that time, they have won 22 and lost only twice. They finished the season 22-7 and, much like Maryland in the B1G, dominated their conference going 13-1 and sweeping  the conference tournament.

Impressive as that streak may be, we should note that the Aggies strength of schedule included two non D-1 schools and was ranked at 311st, depressing their RPI to 129nd. They played no games against RPI top 50 programs and finished just 1-1 against the top 100 RPI. Their last loss came seven games ago at No. 145 Cal State Bakersfield.

New Mexico State averages 72.5 ppg (39th in the NCAA) while giving up 64.3 (180th in the NCAA). It is an efficient top 60 offensive team that scores 0.962 ppp while conceding 0.877 ppp to their opposition. The Aggies are a small squad with only one player listed at 6'2". The lack of size shows in their rebounding statistics. For the season they average a two rebounds per game deficit and have a 50.5 rebound percentage.

Describing New Mexico State as a perimeter-oriented offense is probably something of an understatement. The Aggies are 18th in the NCAA with 8.1 three point field goals made per game. However, they are not among the more accurate three point shooting teams. Nearly 40 percent of the Aggies shots – a bit over 24 per game – are launched from behind the arc. For comparison, Maryland makes about the same percentage of its three-point attempts, but attempts nine fewer per game. So, while the three point shot accounts for nearly 34 percent of New Mexico State's scoring, it represents 18.7 percent for the Terps. Three Aggies players have combined for more three point attempts than Maryland's entire team.

Defensively, New Mexico State has effectively created some havoc for its opponents. The team forces nearly 21 turnovers per game and create a turnover on about 30 percent of its opponents' possessions. Impressive as this may be, one needs to keep its RPI and strength of schedule in mind.

Players to watch

Sasha Weber #4, junior, guard, 6'0". Weber leads the Aggies in scoring at 15.0 ppg and is one of the three-point bombers mentioned above. Of her 340 field goal attempts for the season, 197 have come from behind the arc where she connects on 35 percent. Weber is third on the team in rebounds and assists at 5.2 and 2.2 per game respectively.

Shanice Davis #11, junior, guard, 5'6". Davis is the second of the three-point bombers. She has connected on 33 percent of her 157 shots from long distance and is New Mexico State's second leading scorer at 14.0 ppg. Davis is also the trigger person for the Aggies' offense with a team leading 3.9 assists per game.

History

The Terrapins and Aggies have never met in women's basketball. The Aggies are making their third NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 1988. They are 0-2 in their only two prior NCAA Tournament games. Their coach, Mark Trakh, the WAC's 2014-15 Coach of the Year, has previously taken Pepperdine and Southern Cal to the NCAA Tournament making him one of only 10 NCAA Division 1 coaches to lead three different schools to the NCAA Tournament.