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Maryland women's basketball preview: Terps battle Buckeyes in Big Ten home opener

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In their first Big Ten home game, the Terps will have a tough test.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

After winning its Big Ten opener and first true road game of the season on Thursday, Maryland women’s basketball returns home to take on Ohio State. The two top-10 teams will square off at noon Saturday at the Xfinity Center, and the game will be nationally televised on CBS.

The Buckeyes are widely regarded as Maryland’s toughest foe in the conference. They boast one of the nation’s best backcourts, headed by the duo of Kelsey Mitchell and Ameryst Alston. This team has already faced more than its fair share of stiff competition thus far. In their first 12 games, the Buckeyes played and lost to each of the top-3 teams in the preseason polls (UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame), but they also beat then-No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 24 Michigan State. They last played the Terps in the 2015 B1G title game, which Maryland won, 77-74. On Saturday, the Buckeyes will be seeking revenge.

No. 9 Ohio State (9-3, 1-0 B1G)

The coach

Kevin McGuff. In his third year at Ohio State, McGuff has brought the program to relevance. His first recruiting class was ranked second in the nation, and in the following season the team’s record improved by 7 games. McGuff was the head coach at Xavier from 2002-11, a very successful run highlighted by an Elite 8 berth in 2010. He also had two mediocre seasons at Washington.

Players to know

Kelsey Mitchell, sophomore, guard, 6’3, No. 3. Probably the best player in the conference. As a freshman last year, Mitchell led the nation in scoring at 24.9 points per game and made a single-season record 127 threes. All in all, she set 29 single-game or single-season records—and now she has three years left. A preseason All-American and B1G Player of the Year, Mitchell is averaging 24.4 points, 3.3 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals. She’s also adept at getting to and converting at the foul line, shooting 85.9 percent on just over 7 attempts a night.

Ameryst Alston, senior, guard, 5’9, No. 14. Alston would be the best player on most other teams, and is coming off two straight All-B1G seasons. She’s averaging 19.6 ppg, which is more than any Terp and fourth in the conference. Like Mitchell, Alston is a very good shooter who sports a .511/.375/.878 line.

Alexa Hart, sophomore, forward, 6’3, No. 22. Has started 44 of 47 games in her career, and is averaging 9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. All these numbers have dipped a little from her freshman year, in which she swatted a school-record 127 shots (3.6 bpg). Hart doesn’t hoist the ball up too often, but she makes 60 percent of the shots she takes.

Shayla Cooper, junior, forward, 6’2, No. 32. The Buckeyes’ best rebounder reels in 9 boards a night, and she’s also third on the squad with 11.5 points. Cooper transferred to Ohio State after playing just two games at Georgetown in 2013-14, and joined the team in the middle of the season after completing the fall semester.

Cait Craft, senior, guard, 5’8, No. 13. You may have heard of her more famous older brother Aaron, who played point guard at Ohio State for what seemed like 17 seasons. The younger Craft is only in her fourth year and third as a regular starter. She hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire, what with her 5.5 points per game coming on 34.9 percent shooting from the field and 28.2 percent from three-point range, but she’s a plus on defense. She took the game-altering charge against Michigan State with her team up one and 18 seconds on the clock. Of course.

Strength

Guard scoring. Again: they have Mitchell and Alston. Both are threats to score from anywhere on the floor, or drive to the hoop and draw fouls. Their combined 44 points per game is the most of any duo in the country.

Weakness

Rebounding. Quasi-synonymous with that "size" category we’ve had to use in so many other previews. The Buckeyes are bigger than those teams, but they have been outrebounded over the course of the season, and that doesn’t bode well against a team whose center grabbed 19 boards two days ago.

Thomas’ Prediction: Maryland, 83-74.