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Maryland women’s basketball vs. Princeton preview

The Terps open up the tournament against the Ivy League Champs.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Maryland Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

When Maryland women’s basketball played Princeton in the NCAA Tournament in 2015, Kristen Confroy said she couldn’t get into the Xfinity Center.

There’s a greater security presence during March Madness, and with president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama coming to cheer on their niece, Lauren Robinson, there was more than usual.

While Robinson is a senior on this year’s Princeton team, that’s one of the few things that remains the same from the previous matchup. In 2015, the Terps were gunning for a second straight Final Four appearance, while Princeton was looking to keep its perfect season alive. The Terps led by just four at halftime before pulling away for an 85-70 win.

Three years later, the two teams will meet at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh in a 5 vs. 12 matchup. It’s the first time Maryland has started the tournament away from College Park since 2007.

“Anytime you go on the road, Coach’s big thing is you have to be 10 points better,” Confroy said. “Whether it’s home court officials, or the crowd, whatever it may be, you got to be better on the road.”

While Maryland should win, the Tigers are no walk in the park. Princeton has been one of the best mid-major programs of the past decade and likes to play at a slow pace, which could keep them in the game late. It also generally uses with a nine-player rotation, while the Terps have stuck with mostly a group of seven since Blair Watson went down in January.

Tipoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET, and the game will be broadcast in full on ESPN2 in some areas while being part of whiparound coverage in others. You can also stream the game on WatchESPN.

Princeton Tigers (24-5)

2016-17 record: 16-14, 9-5 Ivy League

Head coach Courtney Banghart has built Princeton into an Ivy League powerhouse in her 11 years on the sidelines. The Tigers had never been to the NCAA Tournament before Banghart took over, and have now made the tournament seven times in the last nine years.

Players to know

Bella Alarie, sophomore, guard/forward, 6’4, No. 31. If there’s any player who could be a problem for Maryland, it’s the Ivy League Player of the Year. The Bethesda native averages 13.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, shoots almost 34 percent from beyond the arc, and played for the U-19 national team last summer. She’s also the daughter of Mark Alarie, who starred at Duke from 1982-86.

Leslie Robinson, senior, forward, 6’0, No. 45. Robinson has started every game for Princeton the last two years, and her 10.2 points and seven rebounds per game rank second on the team. She also might be the Tigers’ best passer, as her 4.3 assists per game are a team high.

Abby Meyers, freshman, guard, 6’0, No. 1. The Potomac native is a spark off the bench, averaging 9.3 points in just over 17 minutes a game. Meyers played at Walt Whitman High School in Montgomery County, and is one of five Princeton players from the DMV.

Strength

Defense. Princeton has one of the stingiest defense in the country, giving up just 54.3 points a game. It’s especially tough on the perimeter, as opponents have made just 28.9 percent of their three-point attempts.

Weakness

Getting to the foul line. The Tigers have a free-throw rate of 24.4 percent, which means they shoot about one free throw for every four field goal attempts. That’s 298th in Division I according to HerHoopStats, and Maryland’s defense has done well keeping opponents away from the charity stripe, with a free throw rate of 22.8 percent.

Three things to watch

  1. Which tempo wins out? Princeton likes to slow it down, while Maryland favors an up-tempo style. The Terps haven’t run as much since Blair Watson went down, but pushing the pace could help put the game out of reach early.
  2. Can Kaila Charles stop Bella Alarie? Charles has usually guarded the opponent’s leading scorer, and it would be shocking if she didn’t guard Alarie on Friday. Charles has guarded anyone from dynamic scoring guards to dominant post players this season. However, Frese said Alarie is unlike any player the Terps have seen this year, comparing some parts of her game to Candace Parker.
  3. Do the 5-12 matchups repeat last year’s trend? The average margin of victory in last year’s tournament was just 5.3 points per game, the lowest of any first round matchup. Quinnipiac upset Marquette on its way to the Sweet Sixteen, and Penn had a 21-point lead heading into the fourth quarter before collapsing against Texas A&M.

Prediction

Maryland wins, 72-61