Thanks to losses by Penn State, Kentucky and Tennessee, Maryland (18-3, 9-1 ACC) has jumped into the No. 7 spot in both The Associated Press and USA TODAY/ESPN polls, which is almost back to where they were ranked in the preseason: No. 5. Not bad for a team that had to swallow a shocking loss at the hands of Saint Joseph's in the third game of the season and has lost its would-be starters at both guard positions.
The next task for the Terps will be to take on 153rd RPI-ranked Wake Forest on Friday at 6:30 p.m. in Winston-Salem, as they try to contain the ACC's fifth leading scorer in Lakevia Boykin. Playing the Demon Deacons should bring back good memories for Tianna Hawkins, who set a program-record with 24 rebounds in a single game against Wake last year.
This is Maryland's last chance to get themselves prepared for Duke. The biggest things, other than depth issues, that have hurt them this year and that they should focus on in this game are cold shooting and turning the ball over way too much.
To rectify the cold shooting they seem to have made an effort to get better shot selection. They've had a lot of good ball movement in half court sets and all of their players who are active and participating significantly seem to have a good sense of what a good shot is for them. The Terps have had five players score in double figures in each of their last two games, and they may be able to accomplish that again against a Wake Forest team that has the worst defense in the ACC.
It's not like that will be good preparation for the No. 1 defense in the ACC, which Maryland will face three days later in Durham. But despite the lack of a challenge, the Terps can still try to improve on what they've already been doing so well offensively and hope that carries over to next Monday. They just have to stay focused for one more game and then they will finally get to challenge themselves at Duke in a contest that will have a lot more meaning than the ones they've been playing recently.
As far as the turnovers, it should be noted that Alyssa Thomas only turned the ball over twice in each of the last two games. She averages just over four turnovers a game on the season. The fact that she turned it over just twice against both Clemson and Boston College could be a good sign for the Terps, though as a team they averaged 17 turnovers in those two games, which is about what their season average is.
The answer to reducing turnovers could be putting more responsibility in the hands of Chloe Pavlech, which has sort of already been happening all year. Earlier in this season, Brenda Frese had said that Maryland's point guard situation was going to be run "by committee." And yet, Pavlech has become pretty much the unquestioned point guard of the Terrapins.
When Chloe is out, Thomas usually runs the point with some help from Sequoia Austin. In addition, when Thomas grabs a defensive rebound and has enough space to get out in transition she will bring up the floor.
But for the most part, Pavlech is running the show and if Thomas' turnover issues creep back up, it will be important for Chloe to step up because she has shown the ability to take care of the basketball. Pavlech is impressively third in the ACC in assist/turnover ratio this season and is the only freshman in the top 10. Alyssa has a lot of pressure on her as a scorer, and, while she is a great passer too, the less pressure there is on her to do everything by herself the better.