No. 8 Maryland (10-3, 1-1 ACC) suffered a tough road loss Thursday at No. 15/23 North Carolina, but have another opportunity to beat a ranked ACC opponent coming up on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. when they host No. 19/21 Florida State (12-1, 2-0 ACC), who is coming off a seven-point victory at Georgia Tech.
The Terrapins and the Seminoles met just once last year and the Terps won comfortably, 91-70, in Tallahassee in what was both teams' ACC opener on Jan. 2, 2012. Florida State fell to 8-7 after that game, while the Terps were the only undefeated team remaining in the ACC, improving to 14-0.
The Terps had three players score 20-plus in last year's meeting: Laurin Mincy with 23, Alyssa Thomas with 21 and Tianna Hawkins with 20. Of course this year they will not be operating with that trio, instead just the duo of Thomas and Hawkins, a duo that is currently 1-2 against ranked opponents.
Guard Alexa Deluzio led Florida State with 23 points against the Terps last year and she is currently the team's second leading scorer this year with 14.9 points per game. Leonor Rodriguez, also a guard, is the team's leading scorer with 16.2 points per game. Forwards Natasha Howard, Chasity Clayton and Chelsea Davis all average in double figures scoring as well. Clayton is their leading rebounder (7.8 a game), while they rely on guards Yashira Delgado and Morgan Toles to dish out assists (5.8 and 5.6 a game respectively).
All of those main contributors for FSU are upperclassmen. And all were with the team and played significant minutes last year, except for Delgado and Toles. Delgado bounced around from Arkansas to Hillsborough Community College before joining the Seminoles this year. Meanwhile, Toles missed the first 24 games of the 2011-12 season due to not being eligible after transferring from Auburn and missed the last three games because of an elbow injury.
The only major loss FSU dealt with coming into this season was the departure of forward Cierra Bravard, who led the team with 14.2 points per game as a senior in 2011-12. With rest of the core in tact and one year more experienced they have raced off to a 12-1 start and have worked their way into the rankings, debuting in the first December poll of both The Associated Press and USA TODAY/ESPN.
The Seminoles seem to have put last year's forgettable 14-17, 6-10 ACC season behind them and are aiming to get back to the NCAA tournament, a place they had been every year from 2005-2011.
FSU is 1-1 against ranked teams this year, having beat Vanderbilt, who is no longer ranked, when they were No. 17/19 and coming off losses to Dayton and Virginia. The Seminoles' loss against a ranked team came by just one point at Nebraska, a team the Terps led by at least nine through the entire second half en route to a 90-71 victory while also playing in Lincoln.
In the ACC, Florida State has beaten BC, 76-70, at home and Georgia Tech, 85-78, on the road. Maryland has beaten Virginia, 79-55, at home and lost to UNC, 60-57, in Chapel Hill.
Neither of FSU's ACC wins have come easy and they were even down seven at halftime against the Yellow Jackets. Don't expect a game against the preseason No. 5 team in the country to be a walk in the park either. The Terps' loss to the Tar Heels will likely motivate them to play well in this game, and, considering it is at Comcast Center, they have to be considered the favorites.
However, Maryland does have some major depth issues going on and a big key to the game will be how their supporting cast handles the tough situation of having three players out with ACL tears.
Despite not being deep, their bench has been one of their strengths this year, with guard Katie Rutan playing her 3-point specialist role nicely and center Malina Howard quietly looking just as good as her fellow freshmen Chloe Pavlech and Tierney Pfirman despite the fact that she is ironically the only member of that recruiting class not starting.
But against UNC Rutan only scored 6 points - tied for her lowest total of the season - off a 1 for 8 three-point shooting night - her worst performance from behind the arc on the season, though two of her misses were desperation threes in the final five seconds of the game.
Meanwhile, Howard played just 15 minutes Thursday, which is nine below her season average and tied with the UConn game for her smallest amount of action this year. She was also held scoreless for just the second time this season against UNC, with the other time also coming against the Huskies. Howard's four shortest outings have actually come against the four best teams Maryland has played (15 minutes vs. UConn and UNC, 16 Minutes vs. Delaware and 20 minutes vs. Nebraska).
Maryland may be lacking depth, but they will be hard to beat in games where Rutan or Howard or both are at their best. One if their focuses against FSU should be getting those two involved.
As far as Rutan, her shot should start to fall again. She is 2-15 from long range in the past three games, so it's only a matter of time before she gets hot again. She had been shooting 43.2 percent from downtown through the first 10 games of the season.
On the other hand, Howard is still developing her game, but the team could benefit from an increase in her playing time against the better teams. She can score from a variety of places on the floor and Maryland could use a player like that (though they have a few of them) when they go through their scoring lulls. The No. 6 overall recruit in the nation, Howard is certainly not the No. 1 offensive option at this point in her career, but those bench points add up. She's not the star of the team yet, but her and Rutan seem to have become the Terps' X factors this year.
The two of them and guard Sequoia Austin have also gotten some help in the depth department. Caitlin Adams, a 6-foot-3-inch Maryland volleyball player and senior, has joined the Terrapin women's basketball team because of the depth issues. She was reportedly eligible to play against the Tar Heels, but saw no playing time.
Adams is listed as a forward and has played AAU and high school basketball, but has not played basketball at the collegiate level. She played volleyball for Texas A&M before transferring to Maryland.
Here's what Brenda Frese had to say about this new addition:
"We are really excited to welcome Caitlin to our family...She's athletic and is a team player that we know can really help us out depth-wise. She came in and spent time with us and we just knew she'd fit right in with our program."
And here's what Adams had to say:
"I heard about the injuries on the basketball team this year and I just thought I could help them out...I knew a lot of the girls and contacted the coaches and came out one day. It's such a well-respected program and the coaches and girls are a lot of fun."
Before Adams' addition, the Terps were down to eight active players on their roster due to Brene Moseley, Essence Townsend and Laurin Mincy all being out with ACL tears that ended their seasons.
Now with nine players they can turn to, Maryland will once again be put to the test, this time against Florida State. The Seminoles have the opportunity to solidify themselves as a ranked team, while the Terps will look to avoid having to play catch up in the ACC.