Last season, one of the key discussions taking place among women’s basketball was Maryland’s seed in the NCAA Tournament. The consensus was that the Terps were one of the most talented teams in the country, but did not play as tough competition as teams of similar pedigree. The selection committee placed more emphasis on the latter, which is why Brenda Frese’s team ended up as a 3-seed despite being in the top 5 for most of the season.
In 2017, it looks like Frese has started to listen to the committee. The team announced in April that it had agreed to a home-and-home against South Carolina, with the Gamecocks coming to College Park on Nov. 13. This gives Maryland another top team to play alongside UConn, who the Terps will take on in Storrs on Nov. 19.
Maryland has a likely matchup against Miami, another top-25 team last season, in the Miami Thanksgiving Tournament. The Terps will also play George Washington and Albany, which are solid upgrades over some of the mid-majors Maryland played last year.
But despite these improvements, Maryland still lags behind the major programs’ non-conference schedules. Based on last year’s RPI, the Terps’ opponents’ average RPI jumped from 188 to 160, which is still behind the eight teams that got a higher seed than Maryland in last year’s NCAA tournament.
The Terps still have a lot of cupcakes on their schedule, with seven teams that had an RPI of over 200 last season. No top-eight team in the NCAA Tournament last year played more than five.
Even if those teams scheduled worse opponents, it wouldn’t hurt them as much as it hurts Maryland. Only four Big Ten teams made the NCAA Tournament, the least of any of the Power Five conferences. With less competition, the Terps have a less of a chance to pick up quality wins than Baylor, Notre Dame, and other top teams.
This year, the Big Ten didn’t give Maryland any favors. The Terps play the two other top teams in the conference, Ohio State and Michigan, just once. Their home/away matchups are Nebraska, Rutgers and Michigan State: two bottom-feeders and a team that will take a step back after losing all-time scoring leader Tori Jankoska. This means Maryland will have to wait until the conference tournament to get more quality wins, but that hasn’t happened recently.
The Terps still don’t have a schedule fitting of a top program, but a huge challenge may not have helped them this year. Eleanna Christinaki won’t be eligible until the start of conference play, leaving just nine players for the start of the season. A tougher schedule would mean more fatigue, and even if it gets them more prepared for March, the extra minutes early in the season could mean a short postseason.
The past two years, Maryland has entered the season with championship expectations, which made their scheduling flaws look that much worse. This year, with a younger and inexperienced team, that isn’t the case. The Terps should still make the NCAA Tournament, but the first and second rounds may not be at the Xfinity Center.
Maryland’s schedule this year looks like a step in the right direction, one that fits with this year’s team. But with the talent coming over the next two years, Maryland will be back near the top of the rankings. This year is a good start, but it will need to improve as the Terps return to prominence.