It’s hard to beat Caitlin Clark when she goes off for 42, seven and eight, like she did in the No. 6 Iowa Hawkeyes’ 96-82 win over the No. 7 Maryland Terrapins on Feb. 2 in Iowa City. But the Terps had Clark’s number the three times before that and should feel confident that they can get revenge Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET in the Red Rush game at Maryland.
On the other side, the Hawkeyes certainly don’t want to slip up, as every game remaining in the regular season and Big Ten Tournament is precious with a No. 1 seed on the line. Both Iowa and Maryland were No. 2 seeds in ESPN’s Friday Bracketology and both could use a win in Tuesday's game on their resume come Selection Sunday.
You have to like Maryland’s fight this year. Losing Shakira Austin and Taylor Mikesell after 2019-20 via transfer was one thing. After that you knew you still had Ashley Owusu, a rising sophomore in Diamond Miller who had yet to show her full potential and the incoming No. 2 recruit in Angel Reese. Plus you brought in key transfer additions in Chloe Bibby and Katie Benzan. Yes, the 2020-21 Terps were a bit of a surprise and Brenda Frese won National Coach of the Year because of it. But it wasn’t until the departures of Reese and Owusu this past offseason that it truly looked like Maryland might enter rebuilding mode.
Reese and Owusu, who both transferred, were superstars and the team’s top two scorers. The Terps also lost their fourth- and fifth-leading scorers in Bibby and Benzan via graduation and their sixth-leading scorer Mimi Collins via transfer.
The Terps worked the transfer portal, bringing in Abby Meyers, Brinae Alexander, Lavender Briggs and Elisa Pinzan to improve their standing entering 2022-23 — they ended up being ranked 17th in the preseason. But would four players from four different programs be able to jell in time? Turns out all four have willingly taken dips in their scoring averages in order to help the team win and the chemistry is there too, as evidenced by the complete dismantling of Ohio State in the game following the loss to Iowa.
Miller has become even better than expected and the Terps will wholeheartedly go to war with her as their superstar regardless of what Reese is doing in Baton Rouge. And Shyanne Sellers has played with the utmost confidence, knowing she had to take a big leap as a sophomore.
The result is a Maryland team that may be able to hang with anybody. The No. 4 UConn Huskies may have been depleted when the Terps beat them, but Maryland has beaten the best versions of No. 10 Notre Dame, No. 12 Michigan and No. 16 Ohio State. Who’s to say Maryland and those three teams can’t compete for a national championship this year?
The Hawkeyes too can compete for the title. Clark is surrounded by a phenomenal team and that is becoming more and more evident. Monika Czinano’s famous no-dribble style is almost as amazing as Clark’s logo threes. She’s so good at getting good positioning in the paint that she doesn’t have to dribble often. Then there’s McKenna Warnock and Kate Martin — both shoot over 40 percent from beyond the arc and would be even bigger stars on most teams. Plus, freshman Hannah Stuelke has the gift of inside touch and has already developed great chemistry with Clark.
When Clark was a freshman, she began her NCAA Tournament legacy by leading a team that was unranked the entire season past Rhyne Howard and Kentucky and into the Sweet Sixteen. Everything changed during her sophomore campaign (last year) as that supporting cast gained more confidence. Though the loss in the second round was disappointing, the Hawkeyes entered the 2022 tourney with some people picking them to win it all. This year, an early-season loss to Kansas State had people questioning Iowa again, but it has roared back to again become a championship contender.
Iowa and Maryland should both feel good to be a part of a group as small as the Top 7. They are one spot apart in the rankings; can the Terps do that closeness in ranking justice and obtain the split by winning on their home court?
No. 6 Iowa Hawkeyes (22-5, 14-2 Big Ten) vs. No. 7 Maryland Terrapins (22-5, 13-3 Big Ten)
When: Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: XFINITY Center in College Park, MD
How to watch/listen: Big Ten Network/Listen (Iowa)
Key to the matchup: Maryland’s defensive pressure. Iowa has the advantage in most categories. Its field goal percentage and rebounding advantages are particularly large. The Terps’ only advantages are free throw percentage and turnover margin. They take care of the ball only slightly better than the Hawkeyes, but force 19.7 miscues a game to Iowa’s 14.6. Maryland is athletic and well-conditioned (as pretty much all Brenda Frese teams are) and can run a full-court press or get turnovers from Miller’s length and aggressiveness in the half-court. Disrupting Clark is the ultimate challenge for a defense that is good at forcing turnovers. We’ll see if the Terps are up to the task.