Depending on your scale of measurement, this past Maryland women’s basketball season could be either a resounding success or a severe disappointment.
If you’re a glass-half-full kind of person, you will take solace in a 29-5 overall record, a 15-3 mark in conference play, Big Ten regular-season championship and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If you’re more pessimistic, you’ll focus on an upset defeat in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 6-seed UCLA, making it three times in four years that the Terrapins failed to reach the Sweet 16.
What’s the correct way to evaluate this year’s team? Probably somewhere in the middle. They were great at times, and they were downright frustrating at others. Let’s take a look at what went right and what went wrong.
Was she perfect? No. There were games when the junior wing vanished, including losses to Michigan State and Iowa in the regular season, scoring five points combined. Charles also had her issues with fouls throughout the year, oftentimes forcing Brenda Frese to sideline her best player.
But for all two of her faults, Charles was easily Maryland’s best and most consistent player this season. She led the team in scoring for the second season in a row, pacing the squad with 17.0 points per game. Her 29.7 minutes and 6.7 rebounds per game both placed second, and she also added over two assists and over one steal per outing.
For someone who has gotten better in every season of her career to this point, it’s scary to imagine how dominant she might become as a senior.
Taylor Mikesell and Shakira Austin
Let’s start with the combo guard from Ohio. Mikesell made headlines throughout the year for her insane workout program—making at least 500 shots per day, 1,000 on non-game days—and better yet, she earned all the notoriety she received. She broke the program record for most three-pointers in a single season with 95, hitting her bombs at a 41.1 percent clip. She also scored 13.4 points per game while adding 3.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
Austin is less of a finished product than Mikesell, which was reflected in an inconsistent season. However, her raw talent is tantalizing, and that led to some awesome performances. Her debut against Coppin State was a 12-point, 21-rebound, seven-block showing, and while the strengthened competition caused her to fall off a bit during conference play, her ceiling was on full display. Austin finished the season averaging 8.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, and it’s interesting to ponder what she could do with a full offseason in the weight room.
Jones has been incredibly consistent in her time at Maryland thus far, and in her junior season, she was the rock that the Terrapins needed in the post. She averaged 12.8 points per game to go along with 6.0 rebounds, both of which ranked third on the squad. And when Austin and Brianna Fraser had difficulty inside, it was Jones who carried both the offense and defense.
Lack of identity on offense
One thing that Maryland lacked at times throughout the season was a complete identity on the offensive half on the court. The pieces were all there: Charles as the go-to scorer, Mikesell as a knockdown shooter from long range, and a mixture of Jones/Austin/Fraser controlling inside.
But at times, the Terps seemed lost with an inability to score the basketball. In the NCAA Tournament loss to UCLA, they scored a paltry nine points in the final quarter of the season. The biggest reason for this? Uncertainty at the point guard position.
There were two different offenses for Maryland this season. One had Channise Lewis running the point, and her biggest weakness was a proclivity to work for a pass instead of taking open scoring opportunities. That led to long possessions in the shot clock, which often led to poor shots just to avoid a 30-second violation.
The other offense had Taylor Mikesell in charge, which failed for two reasons. The first is that it took her off the wing, making it harder than ever to find open looks from beyond the arc. She specializes in using off-ball screens to find an uncontested shot, but when she was at point guard, that option wasn’t available. Mikesell also lacks the playmaking abilities of Lewis, which led to a lot of isolation basketball on offense (often through Charles).
One problem that Maryland had in seemingly every big game this season was having a key player in foul trouble early. Frese is incredibly conservative when a player picks up a second foul in the first half, and she’ll often sit that player until after halftime regardless of the game situation. In the loss to UCLA, Charles was checked out with over five minutes to go in the second quarter and returned with under 20 seconds remaining. However, Frese didn’t always have much choice due to the team’s limited roster.
Depth (or lack thereof)
Over the last two offseasons, Maryland has had to deal with players transferring out of the program. Those decisions almost always come after the season has ended, and well after the majority of top recruits have already signed on with another program for the upcoming season. As such, Maryland had just 10 players on the roster in both seasons, and while several other women’s basketball programs have thin rotations, there were several games in which this was a clear limitation. It forced Frese to avoid taking many risks with players in foul trouble, and that cost the team late in the season.
Life after Brianna Fraser
It was a solid career for Fraser, the lone senior on this year’s roster. Her final season wasn’t eye-opening in terms of stats—she averaged 7.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game—but Fraser’s biggest impact was felt as a leader. Shakira Austin credited Fraser with being her mentor and teaching her how to adjust to the college level. Her absence with an injury late in the regular season was evident in how the team played down the stretch, and now the Terps will have to adjust to life without her going forward.
The freshman class
By this point, everyone knows that Maryland had a top-five recruiting class in 2019. If you want a full breakdown on what each player specifically brings to the table, click here. Right now, ESPNw ranks the Terps as having the No. 3 class in America. However, that doesn’t mean that the youngsters will have as significant an impact as Austin and Mikesell did this past season. Ashley Owusu, the nation’s No. 5 overall recruit, could slide right into the starting point guard position, but we’ll have a long offseason to see if that’s the plan.
The back end of this year’s rotation
While Austin and Mikesell garnered all the headlines this season as part of Maryland’s incoming class, that group wasn’t comprised of just two players. Sharpshooter transfer Sara Vujacic and freshman big Olivia Owens also just finished their first seasons with the Terps, though they didn’t see much time on the court. It’ll be interesting to see if both stay with the program and take the next step come November. And though her time on the court has been brief so far in her career, Sarah Myers will be back next season. The rising senior is often commended for her high energy level and strong work ethic, and she could also make a leap in 2019-20.
It was an uneven season for Maryland, which achieved great heights but failed to live up to its potential. But 90 percent of the squad is returning next season (barring unforeseen transfers), and the No. 3 freshman class in the country will be arriving in College Park come August.
Kaila Charles and Stephanie Jones will be graduating in 2020, making this a very important year upcoming for the Terrapins. The season may not begin for seven months from now, but it’s never too early to start preparing for a title run.