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No. 12 Maryland women’s basketball vs No. 23 Michigan State preview

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The Terps will play for their seventh straight win against the Spartans on the road.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 04 Womens - Indiana at Maryland Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No. 12 Maryland women’s basketball (7-1) will take on No. 23 Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan, as the Terps search for their seventh straight win on the season.

Last game, Maryland was able to escape with a tough win against No. 19 Indiana with a 84-80 win in College Park. Another challenge awaits with an undefeated Spartans team waiting on deck.

“Another opportunity for us to be tested,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “A much improved team from a year ago, I mean they’re undefeated right now, I think playing some of their best basketball.”

Maryland is 2-0 on the road this season and now 3-0 in conference play. The Terps have defeated Indiana, Rutgers and Penn State.

Last time these two teams met, the Terps dominated the Spartans in a 94-53 victory on Feb. 3 last year in College Park.

Thursday’s game between these two Big Ten squads will tip-off on the Big Ten Network at 5 p.m. Let’s take a look at what Maryland is up against in Michigan State.

No. 23 Michigan State Spartans (8-0, 3-0 Big Ten)

2019-20 record: 16-14 (9-9 Big Ten)

Head coach Suzy Merchant has been a mainstay at the helm of the Spartans. The 2020-21 season is Merchant’s 14th season as the head coach of Michigan State and she is approaching 500 wins in her coaching career. As the head coach of the Spartans, Merchant has a conference record of 136-86, which is good enough for a 61.3% win-rate.

Last season, Merchant led the Spartans to an eighth place finish in the Big Ten. The last time Merchant guided Michigan State into the postseason was when the Spartans reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2018-19.

This season, Merchant and the Spartans have an undefeated record and have already taken care of the likes of Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue. Michigan State has a sparkling 6-0 home record this season under Merchant. The Spartans’ latest win came against Purdue on the road in a 71-64 outing.

Players to know

Nia Clouden, sophomore guard, 5’8, No. 24 - After leading the Spartans in scoring last season with an average of about 14 points per game, Clouden has taken her game to the next level to help propel Michigan State into the national rankings. She has started all eight games for the Spartans this season and has made the most of her 30 minutes per game average.

The sophomore averages a team-high 19.1 points per game and shoots an efficient 54.3% from the field. Clouden simply fills up the stat sheet on a consistent basis for Merchant’s squad, leading the team in total steals and assists on top of her scoring abilities. Clouden is easily this team’s largest offensive threat and she will look to execute against a strong Maryland defense.

Alyza Winston, sophomore guard, 5’7, No. 3 - Winston is another very serviceable player for Michigan State. She has started five of the seven games she has played in this season, and averages the second most points on the team with 14.3 per game. While her overall field goal percentage is near 50%, Winston’s three-point shooting is what the Terps should keep an eye out for.

Winston is the best shooter from behind the arc for the Spartans, shooting at a 41% clip from deep. She’s the only one on the Michigan State roster to hit double-digits three-point field goals on the season thus far. If this game ends up being a high-scoring contest, look for Winston to be in the mix.

Alisia Smith, junior forward, 6’3, No. 4 - Despite being a non-factor for most of the season so far, Smith has an opportunity to provide an efficient performance for Michigan State. She has only officially played in two games this season, but her efficiency warrants some attention from Maryland. Smith most recently had a solid performance on Jan. 3, when the Spartans defeated Purdue. The junior dropped 15 points in just 17 minutes on the floor, while also going five for six from the free throw line.

Smith is now shooting a sparkling 64.3% from the field on the season and averages 12 points per game, even though she receives less than 16 minutes on the floor per game. If Smith does see time on the floor, she’ll need another very efficient scoring outing against a high-flying Maryland offense.

Strength

Defensive efficiency. You don’t go undefeated in the early portion of the season unless your team has a formidable defensive scheme. Michigan State’s defense is certainly one that Maryland should be wary of, as the Spartans have allowed 80 points in a single game this season just once.

Michigan State is also very efficient with its turnover margin. The Spartans force their opponents into an average of almost 20 turnovers a game, while only committing 13 turnovers per game themselves. Michigan State will look to be aggressive on the defensive end when Maryland has possession.

Weakness

Three-point shooting. The Terps will have a huge advantage over the Spartans in the long-range game come Thursday. Michigan State averages just six three-pointers made per game, and only shoot the long ball at a weak 30.4% clip. Maryland will surely try to make this a more offense-focused game, and if the Terps get hot from deep, it’ll be a challenging task for the Spartans to keep up.

Three things to watch

1. How will Maryland’s offensive firepower handle Michigan State’s stingy defense? The Terps are approaching historic levels of offense on the season so far. Coming into this game against the Spartans, the Terps are averaging an astounding 95.6 points per game through eight games. That mark is just about one point off of the all-time NCAA Division 1 scoring record, which is held by Providence in 1991 when it averaged 96.7 points per game. If you can’t tell, Maryland knows how to put the ball in the basket at an unbelievable pace.

Maryland sophomore Diamond Miller will certainly be a major factor for the Terps’ offense in Thursday’s game after dropping 20 points against Indiana. She is second on the team in scoring with an average of 18.1 points per game.

“I just continue to do what I do and just play basketball to the best of my abilities,” Miller said. “I’m not trying to do anything special, just trying to help my team win every time I step on the court.”

Looking at the Spartans through eight games this season, they have allowed their opponents to just 66.4 points per game. Michigan State also holds other teams to just 41.4% shooting from the field and a 27.6% clip from three-point range. Due to Maryland’s most recent win against a solid Indiana team, it feels as though the advantage goes to the Terps. However, if Maryland’s offense is cold early, Michigan State will have a chance to pounce on the opportunity to upset the Terps.

2. Will Alaysia Styles see time on the floor for the Terps? Maryland already has a roster that boasts an embarrassment of riches on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. But, the talented Terps’ roster will get another addition on the court sooner rather than later. Styles, a graduate transfer from California, will be another weapon for Frese after she was added to the roster just last week.

Styles played three seasons at California and in her junior season averaged 8.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and started in 30 games for the Golden Bears. The 6’3 forward will be another experienced and impactful player for the Terps while star freshman Angel Reese sits out with a foot injury. It’s only a matter of time before Styles is thrown into the rotation and it’ll be interesting to see if she makes her debut against Michigan State.

3. Will Frese’s coaching dominance over Michigan State continue? If history truly tends to repeat itself, then it will be the Terps who will come out on top on the road. Maryland owns the all-time series against Michigan State with a nearly perfect record of 13-2. Frese also has a very formidable record against the Spartans in her coaching career, as she is 14-3 against Michigan State. The coaching edge clearly favors the Terps here as well, but an improved Spartans’ roster for the 2020-21 season could potentially put a dent in Frese’s record against them.

“We’re gonna have to come out and play both ends of the floor, you know, defensively continue to do what we’ve been doing on the offensive end and you know really play a complete 40 minute game,” Frese said.