The Tortoise And The Bullseye

By Jeff Lippman - August 28, 2007

Playing with a bullseye on your back is no easy task, as Tennessee will learn next season.

Just ask Maryland, winners of the 2006 National Championship. The Terps played every game last season with their opponents sending their best and most pointed-tipped arrows straight for their backs. And although they wear shells, these Terps were not impenetrable.

After winning their first 18 games, the Terps went to Duke, then No. 3 in the nation, and fell to the Blue Devils for their first loss of the season. Maryland would hit a late season slump and would never recover finishing the year 28-6 and losing to Mississippi in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

If you ask Brenda Frese, she'll tell you that playing with the bullseye is tough and that her Terps may have not handled it like the champions they were. But she'll also tell you that Maryland learned from the experience and are now better for it.

Maryland only played five games against ranked teams (at the time they met) all season last year, and they lost four of those games - all to teams ranked No. 4 or higher. This season, the Terps hope that come tournament time they are better prepared because they have scheduled a lot more early season games against tough sure-to-be-ranked opponents.

The Terps open the season with the Preseason WNIT at home against Princeton on Nov. 9. Should MD do the expected and beat the Tigers, the second round, played Nov. 13, would bring the winner of Delaware/Delaware State to College Park. Next will most likely be Notre Dame in the third round, and should the Terps continue to win, next would be the championship where they would have a chance to meet LSU, who has made four consecutive trips to the Final Four and counting. That championship game would take place in either Baton Rouge or College Park on Nov. 18.

Sandwiched between games at the WNIT, Maryland also manages to play a game in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 11. In that matchup, the Terps meet Courtney Paris and Oklahoma, a surefire Top 10 matchup in only their second game of the season.

After a Nov. 20 laugher against Loyola, the Terps are Cali bound for a two-game West Coast swing. First up is UC Santa Barbara followed by UCLA. The Bruins will be a very tough test for the Terps in Westwood.

The next three games get exponentially more difficult starting with Pittsburgh in College Park on Nov. 27. Next up, also at Maryland, is Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Buckeyes lost Jessica Davenport but still have lots of offensive and defensive firepower to give the Terps trouble.

But even if Maryland gets past all those tough contests, the next, on Dec. 3, will be the most treacherous to date. That's when a trip up the road to Piscataway, N.J. pits the Terps against last season's national runners-up Rutgers.

Throw in games at home against Temple and Middle Tennessee State and a three-game matchup in the Terrapin Classic and the Terps play at least four teams that will surely be ranked next year even before ACC play begins. Five if LSU and six because Temple, Middle Tennessee State and Pitt could all be ranked as well.

Yes, the Terps figured they best get the tough games out of the way early, that way, any lumps they take come before ACC play begins and their learning curve will be at the high end by the time the games really start to count.

The Terps start conference play at Wake Forest and end it at N.C. State. In between, a monster game on Jan. 14 at home against Duke is the only big game the Terps play in College Park during the ACC slate. The Terps play at Virginia on Jan. 18, at North Carolina (in their only game against the Heels) on Jan. 26 and at Duke on Feb. 17.

They get Georgia Tech at home on Jan. 20 and Florida State at home as well on Feb. 24. Both those contests are against up-and-coming ACC teams, but being at home should be relatively easy wins for the Terps.

In all, Maryland is scheduled to meet at least seven to 10 ranked teams next season, maybe more, before the ACC and NCAA Tournaments begin. And while they have managed to shake the bullseye, make no mistake, teams will still savor in beating a team that boasts three Wade Player of the Year candidates, a McDonald's High School game three-point contest winner and a Final Four Most Outstanding Player in the same starting five. And yes, those are all different players.

Maryland's schedule will make them a tougher team come March and April, a hope on which coach Frese hangs her hat, because the coach knows - and hopes her players realize - another second-round loss to the Ole Miss' of the world is just plain unacceptable for a team that remains largely the same from winning the national championship only two years ago.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 10:12 AM on August 28, 2007

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