The out-of-conference games are over for Maryland women's basketball. The results were about as expected: an 11-1 record, with the lone defeat at the hands of No. 1 UConn and most of the victories beyond convincing.The Terps have the nation's highest-scoring offense (89.1 ppg), as well as the largest scoring and rebounding margin.
Of course, these numbers are to be taken with several grains of salt; their competition has stunk. Aside from UConn and then-No. 20 Syracuse, the Terps have played nine unranked teams, of which eight were mid-majors. Over the next 18 games, the team can expect to consistently square off against quality opponents and be seriously challenged on multiple occasions. However, Maryland remains the consensus pick to defend its Big Ten championship.
There were several questions surrounding this team before the season began. The top two scorers from a season ago, Lauren Mincy and Lexie Brown, were no longer in College Park. But these first 12 games have brought about most of the answers. I now present to you the five most important lessons I've learned about this team from the non-conference slate.
1. Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough have made the leap.
After the departures of Mincy and Brown, it was imperative for the two juniors to step up. Both players have done that and much more. Walker-Kimbrough has filling up stat sheets like nobody's business, averaging a team-best 18.8 points, 2.4 steals and 1.6 blocks. Her 5.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists are second and third on the squad, respectively. Jones, meanwhile, is posting an impressive 14.8 points and 8.2 rebounds, but her field-goal percentage of 71.4 percent is the highest of any qualified Division I player. Sure, most of her shots have been layups against abysmal or semi-abysmal competition, but both her low-post scoring and her developing midrange jumper were on display Monday against UConn. She led all scorers with 24 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter.
When both of these players are on their games, the Terps should be nearly impossible to beat.
2. The point guard platoon should hold up.
The contrasting styles of Chloe Pavlech and Brene Moseley seem to lend themselves to a very effective platoon. Coach Brenda Frese likes to start Pavlech, who is more of a facilitator and a slightly better defender, then turn to Moseley for instant offense off the bench. The redshirt senior, Mosley, is third on the team with 13.5 points and first with 6.3 assists.
Maryland definitely missed Duke transfer Lexie Brown against UConn, as Moriah Jefferson was able to lock both point guards down on defense. However, Moseley is still shooting 63.4 percent from the field, the sixth-best mark in the nation (although she is currently one made field goal short of the required five per game to qualify).
Expect this duo to give the rest of the Big Ten fits over the next two months.
3. Kristen Confroy has become more than just a shooting threat.
The sophomore has by far the most 3-point attempts on the team (57), and she hit several of Maryland's biggest shots against UConn. But the 38 minutes of action she saw Monday night can also be attributed to her rebounding: she corralled 5 defensive rebounds and 7 total, which is especially impressive for a 5'9 guard among a tall Husky frontcourt. She has moved into the starting lineup the last two games, and there doesn't seem to be any reason for Frese to send her back to the bench at this stage.
4. The two freshmen are coming into their own.
Kiah Gillespie has started nine of 12 games, but after averaging 17.3 points in the first three contests, she has only cracked double digits twice more. She sports a .427/.281/.611 shooting line on just over nine field goal attempts per game, but the talent is clearly there. The same can be said for Brianna Fraser, who has seen an uptick in minutes as of late and at the least will be a valuable backup to Jones and Malina Howard going forward.
5. The target is within reach.
The UConn game was a big statement for the Terps, even in defeat. Maryland went into Madison Square Garden and went toe-to-toe with the champs, becoming the first team to grab a second-half lead against the Huskies this season. They fell short in the end due in large part to free throws and turnovers. Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said postgame that this year's Terps are much more balanced and more difficult to match up with than the 2014-15 team.
If Maryland can hang with the blue bloods of women's college basketball, then it can hang with anybody. The Terps turn the ball over more than they would like (15.2 times per game, 22 against UConn), but there's reason to expect that number to go down along with their pace of play against Big Ten opponents.
The conference is pretty strong, but Maryland is still the team to beat. The Terps' title defense starts Thursday afternoon at Illinois.