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NCAA Tournament first-round preview: No. 4-seed Maryland women’s basketball vs. No. 13-seed Delaware

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The Terps will begin their tournament run in the Spokane Region versus the Blue Hens.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After a quarterfinal defeat to Indiana (a No. 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament) in the Big Ten tournament on March 4, Maryland was given the No. 4-seed in the Spokane Region on Selection Sunday.

The loss to Indiana not only was the first time the Terps failed to win a tournament game, but it was also the first time they didn’t reach the final. Still, after losing in the first round of the 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, Maryland went on to make the Final Four.

“We feel very rested,” graduate guard Katie Benzan said of how the team has used the break between tournaments. “These last two weeks we used to rejuvenate our bodies but also to get better. We’ve practiced hard to work on the little things to just clean up a little bit just to be as prepared as we can for March.”

Maryland, which ended the season as the 13th-ranked team in the AP top-25 poll, opens the tournament against the No. 13-seeded Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens, the Colonial Athletic Association postseason champion.

The victor will face the winner of No. 5-seeded Virginia Tech or No. 12-seeded Florida Gulf Coast University, which will be played at Xfinity Center and immediately precede Maryland’s match.

In conference play, Maryland went 13-4. Three of the four losses came against a ranked opponent; the Terps fell to Ohio State when the Buckeyes weren’t ranked. And while things ended prematurely in the conference tournament, Maryland received a top-four seed for the 21st time in program history. The Terps are 7-3 all-time in basketball’s marquee tournament as a four-seed.

The past success doesn’t stop there for the Terps. In the last 29 tournament appearances, Maryland has earned a top-four seed 21 times. In the 20 years Brenda Frese has been head coach, the Terps have appeared in the tournament 16 times and have gone 36-15 (.706). Maryland is 16-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament under Frese and 17-3 all-time in the opening round.

“They’re a veteran-led team,” Frese said of Delaware. “When you talk about the experience factor that they have, this isn’t some fluke of a team coming in. This is a team that earned it and is going to be for a first-round opponent for us a really tough matchup that we have to come ready to play for 40 minutes.”

On the other side of the court, Delaware will make its fifth appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The last time the Blue Hens made the Big Dance was back in 2013, when Elena Delle Donne led the team.

The contest versus Delaware is set for Friday with a 5 p.m. tipoff at Xfinity Center and will air on ESPNU.

Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens (24-7, 15-3 Colonial Athletic Association)

2020-21 record: 24-5 (16-2 CAA)

Head coach Natasha Adair is in her fifth season in charge of Delaware. Since taking over as the program’s fourth head coach, Adair has a 95-57 record. She arrived in Newark, Delaware, following three seasons at Georgetown University. In her first season with the team, the Hoyas won just four games. The next year they won 16 and 17 after that. She also led Georgetown to the National Invitation Tournament twice.

Over her career as a head coach, which spans 10 seasons, Adair has gone 167-142 in the win-loss column. And in the past two seasons, the Blue Hens have gone 48-12 with just nine conference losses and lost in the semifinals of the 2021 NIT. In addition to being named the 2021 CAA Coach of the Year, Adair currently is an assistant coach for the U18 Women’s National Basketball Team. Adair also is a Maryland native, hailing from Silver Spring.

“Coach Adair had done a great job with [Delaware],” Frese said. “I can’t say enough about what she’s done to their program. They’re playing at their highest level.”

Players to know

Jasmine Dickey, senior guard/forward, 5-foot-10, No. 20 — For the past two seasons, Dickey has been the undisputed top player in the CAA. She became the first player since Elena Delle Donne to be named conference Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons (2021, 2022). Dickey, who leads Delaware with 25.1 points per game, is second on the team in rebounds (10.2).

The Baltimore, Maryland native also gets to the line over seven times a game. Throughout her career in Newark, Dickey has been named to the CAA All-Rookie Team (2019), All-Second Team (2020), All-Defensive Team (2019, 2020) and All-First Team (21, 22).

“She’s a tremendous three-level scorer,” Frese said of Dickey. “Off the bounce, she’s terrific, and then she just goes to the glass hard. She’s a difficult matchup because she’s so athletic. She can really score the basketball and can really go to the glass and get a lot of second-chance opportunities.”

Ty Battle, redshirt senior forward, 6-foot, No. 33 — Battle was the Robin to Dickey’s Batman all season long. The Illinois native averaged 13.3 points and a league-high 11.5 rebounds this year while shooting 51% from the field. Battle is a two-time All-Defensive Team and All-First Team nominee (21, 22). This season was just Battle’s second with Delaware; she transferred from Indiana State University in the summer of 2019.

Tyi Skinner, sophomore guard, 5-foot-5, No. 3 — Clocking in as the team’s third-highest scorer with 12.9 points a night, Skinner paced the team in assists per game (3.3) and three-point shooting (35%). Not only is Skinner the Blue Hen’s top playmaker in year two, but she can also score the ball; the Washingtonian had a career-high 25 points against Towson on March 3. She also was named to the 2021 All-Rookie Team.

Strength

Dickey. Trailing only Caitlin Clark and Maddy Siegrist in scoring, Dickey is third in the country in points per game. She has been the most electric player in the conference for the past two seasons and can take over a game — she had a game-high 27 points in the CAA Championship match versus Drexel, and her season-high in scoring this year was 52.

Weakness

Overall shooting ability. For a team that finished runner up in the regular season and won the conference title, Delaware’s shooting percentages are average. Of the 10 teams in the CAA, Delaware is sixth in team field goal (39.2) and three-point percentage (29.9) and eighth in free-throw percentage (71.4). Maryland’s defense has faced off against some of the most high-octane offenses in the country, so the Blue Hens can’t afford to have an off day.

Three things to watch

1. Maryland’s talent. It was no surprise that six Maryland players earned conference honors. Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese was an All-Big Ten First Team and All-Defensive Team nominee; Graduate forward Chloe Bibby, junior forward Diamond Miller and junior guard Ashley Owusu made the Second Team; Benzan made the media Second Team and earned Honorable Mention honors from the coaches; freshman guard Shyanne Sellers was named Sixth Player of the Year and made the All-Freshman Team. Delaware will have to find a way to handle Maryland’s plethora of talent.

2. Which team will win the battle on the glass? With Battle down low, Delaware finished the season as the second-best rebounding team in the CAA with 44.5 total boards per game. However, the Blue Hens never faced a player like Maryland’s Reese, who averaged 10.8 rebounds per game, which was good for second in the Big Ten. The Baltimore native also snagged over five offensive boards — second highest in the nation. But it isn’t just Reese; Bibby (5.6 rebounds per game), Miller (3.9) and redshirt junior forward Mimi Collins (4.9) also help clean up the glass.

“She’s working hard,” Miller said of Reese. “She’s doing what she has to do, and she’s playing like a beast out there. We need her every time she steps on the court to play to the best of her abilities, and that’s what she’s been doing for us.”

3. At least one more home game. With the top-16 seeds hosting the tournament’s first round, the Terps are guaranteed at least one more game in College Park, Maryland. Not only is this a sweet feeling for the fans, but it also gives the team’s two graduate players — Bibby and Benzan — at least 40 more minutes to play at Xfinity Center.

“It’s really exciting,” Bibby said of getting at least one more game at home. “I think we’ve put in the work all year to be able to have the home game and to host — just really excited to be able to play in front of the fans at XFINITY again.”

Speaking of Xfinity Center, the last time these two teams faced off was in Maryland’s home confines; The Terps topped the Blue Hens, 99-55, on Nov. 17, 2019, in College Park. Delaware has never defeated Maryland in 14 tries.

It also means that the Terps don’t have to go far for the first round. Here are the distances the three other teams have to travel in miles, according to Google Maps: Virginia Tech (280 miles), FGCU (1,046 miles) and Delaware (91 miles).