The University of Miami women's basketball team has moved back into the rankings at No. 24 in The Associated Press poll and No. 25 in the USA TODAY/ESPN poll, meaning that No. 10 Maryland will be facing their third straight ranked ACC opponent Thursday at 7 p.m. when they host the Hurricanes at Comcast Center in College Park, Md.
It is unlikely they will face three ranked opponents in a row again at any point during the rest of the regular season.
Miami is undefeated in the ACC, but they have yet to go on the road or play a ranked team in conference play. They have beaten N.C. State, 79-53, Clemson, 78-56, and Virginia, 58-52, all in Coral Gables. Note that Maryland beat Virginia, the Terps and Hurricanes' one common opponent thus far, much more comfortably, winning 79-55 in College Park.
Miami's most impressive win was at home over No. 8 Penn State, 69-65, on Nov. 29. Maryland doesn't have a win that impressive, though they are undefeated (7-0) at home and Miami has yet to prove themselves on the road.
The Hurricanes have only played two games away from the BankUnited Center and they are 1-1 in those conests, defeating 66th RPI-ranked Richmond (10-6, 1-0 A-10), 69-63, and only putting up 34 points in an eight-point loss to 76th RPI-ranked Rutgers (9-6, 0-2 Big East).
That's not exactly the road resume you want going into Comcast Center, a place where the Terps have the confidence that they can be dominant.
Miami's only loss besides Rutgers was by a respectable 12 points to No. 9 Tennessee. Fellow ACC teams Georgia Tech and North Carolina have fallen to the Volunteers by 17 and 45 respectively. That loss makes them 1-1 against ranked teams, and both of their ranked opponents are current top 10 teams, as is Maryland.
Miami ranks seventh in the ACC in scoring offense and third in the conference in scoring defense. The Terps are third and second in those two categories, respectively. Maryland is third in the ACC and tenth in the nation in field goal percentage, but the Hurricanes are No. 1 in the conference and No.5 in the nation in field goal percentage defense, holding their opponents to just 31.5 percent shooting on the season.
From beyond the arc, both of these teams are middle of the pack in the ACC, with Miami shooting 30.7 percent and Maryland shooting 29.6 percent. However, the first time they met last year, the Hurricanes dominated that category and it led them to victory.
Then senior Riquna Williams, who went to the Tulsa Shock with the fifth pick of the second round in the 2012 WNBA draft, shot a ridiculous 8 for 14 from downtown en route to 34 points that propelled the Canes to a 75-63 win over the Terps in Coral Gables on Jan. 12, 2012.
Maryland won't have to deal with Williams this year, but they will have to deal with current Hurricane senior Stefanie Yderstrom, who was 4 for 7 from three-point range in the Jan. 12, 2012 game and is shooting 39.2 percent from beyond the arc so far this year, which is better than anybody on the Terps, including Katie Rutan at 35.8 percent.
In the second Miami vs. Maryland meeting last year, the Terps played at home and came a lot closer to winning. They fell, 76-74, as Yderstrom dropped a game-high 26 and Shenise Johnson added 20. The Hurricanes only had four threes in that game, two more than Maryland's two, whereas in the first meeting they had 13 to the Terps' two. Miami was out-rebounded in both contests and shot a lower overall field goal percentage in both, but found a way to beat Maryland twice and thus become the biggest thorn in the Terps' side during what was a great season for both programs.
The Hurricanes also lost Johnson to the 2012 WNBA draft, as she was picked fifth overall by the San Antonio Silver Stars. Last year they went 26-6 (14-2 in the ACC) and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament as a 3 seed before being upset by 11 seed Gonzaga, 65-54. They entered this year ranked No. 24/23, and have at least received votes every week of the season so far, though this week broke a streak of three straight weeks of them being unranked in both polls. Yderstrom is their leading scorer with 13.4 points per game, while fellow senior Morgan Stroman adds nearly a double-double a game, averaging 12.4 points and 8.2 rebounds.
In order to win this game the Terps would like Alyssa Thomas to stay hot, and they would also like to keep the three-point shooting going. Maryland, who had been averaging 3.5 threes per game going into their matchup with Florida State last Sunday, hit seven against the Seminoles and that gave them a nice boost.
Brenda Frese wants her team to have a good inside-outside game. We know that they have the inside game with Alicia DeVaughn and Tianna Hawkins who are second and third in the ACC in field goal percentage. But If they can throw together a makeshift outside game without Laurin Mincy and Brene Moseley and instead with three-point specialist Rutan complemented by Tierney Pfirman and Chloe Pavlech, who are still finding their way as shooters at the collegiate level, they can truly become a complete offensive team.
If Miami wants to win they have to prevent Maryland from becoming that all-around offensive threat. The Terps are vulnerable to scoring lulls and both times they've been upset this year they've shot under 25 percent from the field in the second half.
Maryland has a great defense that held the fifth best offense in the country in FSU to 64 points and the best offense in the country in UConn to 63. As a result, the formula for beating the Terps hasn't been scoring a ton of points; it has been forcing them into cold shooting.