When many last tuned in to the Maryland Women's Basketball team, they were coming off a second straight sweep of the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. Over two years of play in the Big Ten, including tournaments, Maryland has gone a remarkable 40-2 (34-2 in the regular season). So it's understandable that the rest of the conference has more than taken notice of their new neighbor near the nation's capital.
On paper, this looks like another season in which the Maryland juggernaut should keep on chugging. While some tremendously successful core players graduated last season, the team returns two standouts in seniors Brionna Jones (Pre-Med major) and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. Both were All-Big Ten players last season and SWK led the nation in three point shooting percentage (54.5 percent).
Moreover, a highly touted freshman class has been inserted into the roster, with multiple players making their presence felt early. We expect Destiny Slocum to start at the point guard spot from day one of her college career. The high energy dynamo from Idaho plays at a fast pace and with pizazz. She has arguably the best vision of any point guard to play at Maryland under Brenda Frese. And it's been demonstrated in the past that perhaps no coach in the country gives freshmen the opportunity to play and potentially flourish like Frese. She has a proven record of trusting in young players and letting them develop through the fire.
The perimeter should be stronger than it was a year ago, when depth and match-ups could be a challenge. In addition to Slocum, freshmen Blair Watson, Sarah Meyers and Kaila Charles will give Maryland size, speed and punch from the perimeter. Ieshia Small, a transfer from Baylor and another big, powerful guard, will also be eligible to play.
Add all that to the ever steady, rock-solid Kristen Confroy and this could be one of the best perimeter rotations we've seen at Maryland recently. Confroy, another gem Maryland mined from the state of Ohio, was a modestly recruited guard who chose Maryland over Duquense. She's shown a penchant for hitting clutch shots, knowing her assignments and is an outstanding rebounder for a 5-9 guard. She was one of three Pre-Med majors in last season's starting five.
The front court is built around Brionna Jones who can be a bulldozer around the basket. The senior from Havre de Grace, Maryland, has terrific hands and finishes well around the basket. With Slocum running the point, don't be surprised to see her get a few more layups in the half court and transition.
Who plays next to Jones in the front court is one of the bigger question marks. Malina Howard and Tierney Pfirman have graduated, meaning Maryland will need sophomores Kiah Gillespie and Brianna Fraser to step up and raise their games. Both will have opportunities to earn minutes. Freshman Kaila Charles could also slide up and play some four, almost giving Maryland a "four guard" look that would be challenging for opponents to match-up against.
The schedule this season is challenging and includes a home date on Dec. 29 with NCAA dynasty Connecticut.
On the road, Maryland will travel to preseason No. 2 Louisville in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, as well as playing in Las Vegas in a tournament against PAC-12 teams Arizona State and Washington State over Thanksgiving. Maryland also has a tricky non-conference road game at Duquesne, which was schedule to give Walker-Kimbrough a game in her home town. One of the things Frese has always done is try to schedule games in or near the home towns of recruits, making it easer for friends and family to come and support.
Maryland starts as a preseason top ten team in most polls. With so many young players this season, it won't be surprising if there are a few growing pains along the way, but it also won't be a surprise if Maryland is once again in the national conversation come March.