With several ‘elite’ teams, Big Ten Tournament another measuring stick for No. 5 Maryland women’s basketball

COLLEGE PARK — Few teams have dominated their conference tournament like Maryland women’s basketball has since joining the Big Ten.

The Terps are 19-3 all-time in the tournament, reaching the final for seven straight years from 2015 to 2021 and winning five titles.


But this year poses a new challenge. Ahead of their first Big Ten Tournament game Friday, the Terps will likely have to get past several elite teams to win the crown. Maryland is ranked No. 5 in the country after going 24-5 in the regular season, but the Terps aren’t even a top-two seed in the conference tournament. Maryland, the No. 3 seed, is behind No. 1 seed Indiana and No. 2 seed Iowa.

If the Terps are going to win the Big Ten title for the third time in four years, their path to get there might be more difficult than ever.


“It’s the toughest now going into the tournament that it’s ever been,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said Wednesday.

“It’s the toughest now going into the tournament that it’s ever been,” Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese said Wednesday about the strength of the conference ahead of the Terps' first Big Ten Tournament game Friday.

If the Terps win in the quarterfinals Friday, they’ll likely play Iowa, ranked No. 7 in the country and led by Big Ten Player of the Year Caitlin Clark, in the semifinals. Maryland (24-5 overall, 15-3 Big Ten) and Iowa (23-6, 15-3) split their two regular-season meetings, with the Terps winning the most recent matchup by 28 points at Xfinity Center on Feb. 21. Then, if the Terps win, they could face Indiana (26-2, 16-2), ranked No. 2 in the country and one of five teams to beat Maryland this season. In addition to the Hoosiers, the opposite side of the bracket also has two other ranked teams — No. 14 Ohio State and No. 17 Michigan.

“We’ve played these top top-10, top-15 teams many times, and we’ve beaten many and we’ve come close with many,” senior guard Abby Meyers said. “So I think that we’ve had many lessons throughout the regular season, and we’re just going to approach them as we’re going to be as prepared as possible and we’re ready to tackle any challenge ahead of us.”

Frese, in her 21st season with the Terps, said the talent of the Big Ten, especially at the top of the conference, reminds her of the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2006. Three ACC teams (Maryland, North Carolina and Duke) made the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament, with the Terps winning their only national championship.

“I hope it unfolds that way,” Frese said. “We’ll see what happens, but this one is going to be whoever earns this conference championship is going to have gone through three elite games, four league games, to be able to come out on top.”

The stakes for the Terps this weekend at Target Center in Minneapolis are clear: Make a run, and potentially earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament; or lose early, and risk falling to a No. 3 seed. But Frese believes her team, winners of six straight and 11 of the last 12, are ready for the postseason pressure.

“March is the best time of the year,” Frese said. “I feel obviously great about the fact that we’re peaking at the right time going into the tournament, but we also know and understand that it’s one game at a time. … So I think for us, it’s just continuing to keep playing great basketball. I loved where we’ve been trending on both ends of the floor, both defensively and offensively.”

Despite their success in the tournament, last season was Maryland’s first true speed bump since the Terps joined the Big Ten in 2014-15. After making the title game from 2015 to 2021, the Terps were upset in their first game by Indiana. Maryland was then eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16.

Maryland’s Abby Meyer shoots a reverse layup against Iowa's Caitlin Clark, left, and McKenna Warnock at Xfinity Center on Feb. 21.

After the 2021-22 campaign, several Maryland players transferred out of the program, including All-Big Ten guards Angel Reese and Ashley Owusu. But Frese reloaded with nine new players, including a handful of transfers headlined by Meyers, the 2021-22 Ivy League Player of the Year and a second-team All-Big Ten selection this season. In the preseason, Maryland was ranked No. 15 and picked to finish fourth in the Big Ten by the league’s head coaches.

“Personally, I’ve always been an underdog, so I love having a chip on my shoulder, and I know many of my teammates do as well,” said Meyers, the Terps’ second-leading scorer at 14.3 points per game. “I think that just gives us that edge, that dog mentality that no matter what’s in front of us, we’re gonna attack it straight on together.”

Before the season, Frese said the Terps’ challenging schedule — 10 games versus ranked opponents, including matchups against marquee programs like UConn, Notre Dame and Baylor — would prepare her team for the postseason. Frese reiterated that sentiment Wednesday before the Terps’ flight to Minneapolis.

“We’ve been in close games — down to the wire, have to get a stop, have to get a score — against so many ranked teams that I don’t know how this group wouldn’t go into the postseason here, now in March, with just the utmost confidence,” Frese said.

The Big Ten Tournament began Wednesday with the first round. Maryland will play No. 6 seed Illinois, which defeated No. 11 seed Rutgers, 81-55, in the quarterfinals Friday night. The Terps defeated the Fighting Illini, 82-71, on Feb. 12.

Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal


No. 3 seed Maryland vs. No. 6 seed Illinois

At Target Center, Minneapolis

Friday, approximately 9 p.m.

TV: Big Ten Network