COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — In another basketball universe, one where ACLs stay intact, Maryland and Michigan State are seeded first and second instead of fourth and fifth.
One can only imagine what a game it would be if all the players in dress clothes were wearing uniforms instead when the Terrapins and Spartans meet Monday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"It would be interesting to see, wouldn't it?" Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. "It would be fun. I would take it."
Maryland (25-7) lost three players, including the expected starting backcourt, to torn ACLs in the fall. Michigan State (25-8) had two key players succumb to the dreaded knee injury and lost a third to a torn Achilles. The sidelined half-dozen — Maryland's Brene Moseley, Laurin Mincy and Essence Townsend, and Michigan State's Branndais Agee, Madison Williams and Aerial Powers — combined to play in a total of 10 games this season.
In addition, Maryland's Tierney Pfirman is out with an illness after missing time earlier in the season with a dislocated kneecap, and Michigan State's Akyah Taylor is done for the year with an orbital fracture near her right eye.
The injuries have forced both coaches to shorten rotations and adjust practices to keep from wearing down starters who are logging heavy minutes. Three Michigan State players were on the court for all 40 minutes in Saturday's first-round win over Marist, including Jasmine Thomas, who has played 342 of 360 minutes in the Spartans' last nine games.
All of Maryland's starters played at least 30 minutes in the Terrapins' win over Quinnipiac, also on Saturday. Needless to say, neither team had a taxing workout planned for Sunday.
"We might battle Maryland for most walk-throughs," Merchant said. "We're like the NBA. Get in, get a few shots up, walk through some things, and that's about it."
It speaks volumes that the Terrapins and Spartans preserved to remain in their usual spots among the elite programs in women's college basketball. One or the other will advance to this year's Sweet 16.
"I think what you see are mirror images of each other," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said, "when you talk about being limited throughout the season — both teams with a ton of injuries. When you look at benches — playing six or seven players consistency through the season. And both teams having tremendous seasons."
Frese and Merchant go back a ways, to the days when Frese was an assistant at Iowa State and Merchant was coaching Division II Saginaw Valley State in the 1990s. The friendship continued when Frese went to Ball State and Merchant was at Eastern Michigan; they went 2-2 facing each other in the Mid-American conference.
Both have two sons, juggling family and career, and they'll have the chance to get together much more often in the coming years, when the Terrapins and Spartans become conference rivals with Maryland's move from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big 10 in July 2014.
"It's still hard to put your mind around growing up as a Big 10 person, to think of Maryland and Rutgers in the Big 10," Merchant said. "But they've got a great program. ... We're looking forward to it. The nice thing is, we've been here twice now (for the NCAA tournament), so the next time we play we'll be like the old veterans here."
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