Women's Basketball Scouting Report: Maryland
It's a very special day for Army basketball. The men's program is one of only five longstanding Division I programs that has never made an NCAA tournament appearance since the configuration of the D-I structure in 1948. Before this season began, Army women's basketball owned just one NCAA appearance, in 2006. It's rare when West Point hits the Dance floor, so this second NCAA tournament go-round is a precious moment, an occasion to be savored and treasured by everyone in the program. It's a time for Army basketball fans to rejoice and drink in the giddy feeling of watching a game in which the Black Knights are playing with house money, free from the pressure of having to get into the Dance. They've made it. Now they can let loose and have some fun.
The challenge Army faces on Sunday afternoon in a pure road game -- played on Maryland's home floor in College Park, Md. -- falls under this familiar description: "easy to say, hard to do." The Black Knights and coach Dave Magarity know what their plan must be and how they must bring it to life. It's just going to be very difficult to pull off "the perfect game" against a formidable team that knows what it's like to compete at the highest levels of college basketball.
You've seen Army mow down the rest of the Patriot League, especially in the just-concluded conference tournament. You witnessed the Black Knights at their best. Magarity's lean, mean defensive machine surrendered an average of just over 50 points in three games, which was little more than a continuation of a wildly successful Patriot League regular season in which Army powered its way to a 14-4 mark. Army is right at home in the low 60s, much as human beings are during the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The Black Knights are fully aware that the biggest key to this game is also the second, third, and fourth most important key to this game.
Tempo. Tempo. Tempo.
Maryland will try to speed up Army, and what's more is that playing the game at home will give the Terrapins a copious quantity of additional energy. A neutral-site game would have allowed Army to perhaps take advantage of the weird vibe that neutral-court contests can create, but that's not an option or possibility here. Army must go into an enemy lair for this tournament tussle, making the task harder... but the challenge much richer.
A mindset rooted in the need to be disciplined -- but made lighter by the accompanying importance of having fun and enjoying this experience -- can give Army just the right psychological approach in this contest. It will be fun to see what the Black Knights can do against a powerhouse that is playing its last NCAA tournament in the Atlantic Coast Conference before moving to the Big Ten this autumn.
NOTE: We'll list Maryland's starting five, but we'll focus on a team-based evaluation in this scouting report rather than funneling the report through the prism of specific players.
Maryland is not a member of college basketball royalty, but it's on the next tier, trying to become a member of the elite club. The Terrapins are a member of a select group of national champions, having taken home the title in 2006 with a loaded roster that included Kristi Toliver, Marissa Coleman, Shay Doron, and Crystal Langhorne. The Terrapins have continued to knock on the Final Four door in the subsequent seven seasons, but they've been denied three times in the Elite Eight. This program is itching for a return to the big show, and since it has escaped Connecticut and Notre Dame in its regional placement, it hopes that it can make a deep run this March under head coach Brenda Frese, the architect of this program and the author of its championship moment eight years ago.
If Army likes to play slowly, Maryland likes to play quickly. This has always been the case under Frese, whose preferred style of play is a natural magnet for high-end recruits that want to be (and feel) liberated on the court. Toliver, Doron, Coleman, and Langhorne established the template for this, and it has remained in place ever since.
Assessing Maryland becomes complicated when one realizes that this team went 3-5 against the RPI top 25, but 7-1 against teams rated in the 26 through 100 range. Maryland's best non-conference win came against bubble team (and NIT participant) South Florida. It split with North Carolina in ACC play but got thumped by Duke. Maryland's best performance of the season might have been its 87-83 loss at home to Notre Dame. The Terps shot the ball really well in the second half but simply couldn't get enough stops against the Irish's lethal offense. The larger point remains that this team doesn't have all that many high-level wins. It is a 4 seed because it avoided bad losses in its 30-game season. There is a hint of vulnerability about this team, and it's up to Army to play the proverbial "perfect game" for a 13 seed and force the Terps to make plays in the final minutes of regulation under enormous pressure.
Maryland's attack begins and ends with its star player, Alyssa Thomas. No other member of this team averages in double figures (unless rounded up to the nearest whole number). Thomas is a very effective finisher near the basket. She averages almost 11 boards per game, so she gets a lot of putback chances. Army must deny her those opportunities on Sunday afternoon.
The rest of the Terrapins are contributors who surround Thomas. This supporting cast needs to be at its best in order for Maryland to climb past Tennessee and the other contenders in the Louisville Region. It's worth pointing out, though, that as much as Thomas scores and rebounds, she's also tied for first on this team in assists per game. The other playmaker for the Terps is Lexie Brown. Shutting off passing lanes for her and Thomas will form much of Army's defensive plan against the Terps.
The other player Army must closely guard (and monitor) is reserve guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. She averages only 17.5 minutes, but she averages 9.8 points, meaning that while Thomas is the star on this team, Walker-Kimbrough's points-per-minute average makes her this team's second most reliable scoring option. Maryland is a team that, under Frese, runs 10 players onto the court for at least 13 minutes per game. Frese counts on attrition and fresh legs (from her players) to speed up and wear down the opposition. Maryland's bench includes guard Brene Moseley, who averages 2.8 assists per game, and forward Tierney Pfirman, who collects 3.8 rebounds per game. Maryland comes at its opponents in waves, and Army has to ride out those waves on the Terps' home floor.
Forward – Alyssa Thomas – Senior, 6-2; 2013-14: 18.9 points per game, 10.8 rebounds per game, 4.3 assists per game
Center – Alicia DeVaughn – Senior, 6-4; 2013-14: 7.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg
Forward – Brionna Jones – Freshman, 6-3; 2013-14: 7.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg
Guard – Lexie Brown – Freshman, 5-9; 2013-14: 9.3 ppg, 4.3 apg
Guard – Katie Rutan – Senior, 5-8; 2013-14: 6.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2 apg
You've met Walker-Kimbrough, Moseley and Pfirman. Guard Laurin Mincy plus center Malina Howard fill out Frese's 10-player rotation. .
Keys to the Game
1) Tempo and shooting together. It is of course paramount for Army to dictate tempo and not allow itself to be sped up by Maryland, but a part of the formula for the Black Knights must also necessarily include the ability to make one or two extra passes late in the shot clock and hit the jumper at the shot clock buzzer. Army will need to put together a dozen or more such possessions if it expects to win, and not merely stay close. Tempo without shooting (and vice-versa) won't get it done for the Black Knights.
2) One and done for Maryland on offense. Whenever a slow team plays a fast team, the slow team has to limit the fast team's number of possessions. Army obviously has to minimize turnovers, but the bigger concern is to keep Thomas and her teammates off the offensive glass. Maryland can't feast on the backboard; if it does, Army doesn't have a realistic path to victory.
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