Beneficiaries of higher-ranked teams’ stumbles, the Terrapins rose from No. 14 to No. 7 in the AP poll in just three weeks (from Dec. 28 to Jan. 18).
However, the next six spots seem roped off.
No. 6 Stanford’s loss to No. 5 UCLA was not enough for an idle Maryland team to move ahead. And the other four teams in the Top 6 are either undefeated or, in the case of South Carolina, have just one loss to an undefeated team. It’s a whole different echelon of elite basketball that the Terps are trying to scratch the surface of.
Maryland has won 10 games in a row and two of those wins were over currently-ranked teams. So, in addition to being helped by the struggles of other teams, the Terrapins have done their part. Yet, they face one of their toughest tests yet in the No. 14 Ohio State Buckeyes on Monday night at 7 p.m. ET.
The Buckeyes enter the ESPN2 matchup having defeated the now-No. 12 Michigan Wolverines 81-77 in their latest contest on Thursday. Ohio State held off Michigan despite 50 points from Wolverine junior Naz Hillmon.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Maryland has a balanced offensive attack. All five Terp starters (Diamond Miller, Ashley Owusu, Katie Benzan, Chloe Bibby and Mimi Collins) average double-digit points. Fortunately for Ohio State, it also has five starters who average double figures: Jacy Sheldon, Dorka Juhasz, Madison Greene, Aaliyah Patty and Braxtin Miller.
Owusu (17.8 points per game) is the headliner for Maryland, but Miller has passed her in scoring with 17.9 points per contest. Benzan, meanwhile, is shooting a blistering 50.6 percent from deep with 43 makes. She is fifth in the nation in percentage and has at least 10 more makes than anyone else in the top 18. Benzan averages 15.3 points, while Bibby (14.4) and Collins (10) round out the starting lineup.
Sheldon (17.7 points per game) led Ohio State with 20 points against Michigan, while Juhasz averages a double-double (16.3 points, 10.2 rebounds). Green, Patty and Miller average 14, 11.9 and 10.6 points respectively. Patty missed the Michigan game with a shoulder injury.
This should be an interesting game. Ohio State’s one loss (Jan. 16) came to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who have knocked off three Big Ten teams that were ranked at the time but are unranked themselves. Maryland’s one loss (Nov. 28) came to the unranked Missouri State Lady Bears, who are receiving votes.
Look for Owusu to be an X factor, as Maryland likes to have the ball in her hands in the big moments.
No. 7 Maryland Terrapins (11-1, 7-0 Big Ten) vs. No. 14 Ohio State Buckeyes (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten)
When: Monday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Value City Arena in Columbus, OH
Key to the matchup: 3-point shooting. Maryland is known for having the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation (92.5 points per game). But Ohio State has the far better defense and also shoots a similar field goal percentage to Maryland. That could spell upset. But if Maryland can stay hot from distance it should be fine because that’s where it has a big advantage. The Terps shoot 39.6 percent from beyond the arc compared to the Buckeyes’ 31.7 percent clip.
Reason to watch: Maryland has been tested by many Big Ten opponents with only a couple of blowouts in conference play. Ohio State should be able to make this a close contest.