Maryland women’s basketball is always up for a challenge. Under coach Brenda Frese, the Terps have played 44 games against ranked nonconference opponents, with a record of 20-24.
Despite Frese’s overwhelming success — she is one of only 18 active Division I coaches with more than 600 career wins — her team has struggled against premier nonconference foes. The Terps have a 8-18 record against top 10 nonconference teams since she took over in 2002.
The 2023 season is no different. Maryland is already 0-1 against top 10 teams after a blowout loss to South Carolina and faces No. 8 UConn Thursday. Why does Frese continue to create these early-season gauntlets?
“We’re always being challenged by our administration to make sure we schedule [hard],” Frese said after Maryland’s season opener. “This one is definitely ambitious, but in our nonconference they’re asking us to schedule harder.”
The athletic department has urged Frese to schedule premier games for a variety of reasons, such as ticket sales, strength of schedule and program exposure, according to a team spokesperson.
Recent seasons have seen an increase in elite opponents. The Terps have played at least two top 10 teams in each of the past three seasons and have played one in all but one season since 2012.
Those games draw crowds. The Terps’ most attended home games across the last two seasons have been against non-Big Ten foes — UConn in 2022 and Baylor in 2021. The average attendance for a top 10 nonconference matchup is about 9,265 over the past five seasons, excluding 2020. That’s nearly 30 percent higher than the average home attendance in 2022.
Frese understands the benefits of the tough matchups. The veteran coach explained that even losses eliminate a false sense of security that could develop for a team that breezes through a soft schedule.
“I think it just prepares us, honestly, in the long run, no matter the outcome,” junior guard Shyanne Sellers said.
The season’s structure has its drawbacks. Freshmen face a steep learning curve to the college game and are much less likely to see the floor in these premier matchups. Riley Nelson played zero minutes in the first half against South Carolina on Sunday.
“It’s just tough because I think in the women’s game confidence is a big factor,” graduate student Brinae Alexander said. “I think it’s easy for younger kids to come in and get discouraged by either low minutes and playing time, or playing in these big games on the road and [being] overwhelmed by the crowd.”
The most obvious downside to the challenging schedule is Maryland’s record. Top 10 nonconference teams average seven more points per game than the Terps in those contests.. Blowouts like those Maryland suffered in 2021 — to then-No. 5 NC State and then-No. 7 Stanford — could even derail a season.
Despite that, Frese has a simple explanation for why she’ll continue pitting Maryland against the nation’s best.
“For us, it’s always been to build for March and build for conference play,” she said. “I think if you look at our track record in February and March, it’s pretty darn good.”