COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — No. 4 Maryland is expected to be the Big Ten’s best women’s basketball team this season, returning all five starters from the nation’s highest-scoring team that won the conference championship.

The Terrapins will be as prepared as possible to play contenders such as No. 8 Indiana, No. 9 Iowa and No. 11 Michigan thanks to an incredibly tough stretch of non-conference games.

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Over one week in late November, Maryland will face defending champion and third-ranked Stanford, No. 5 North Carolina State and No. 7 Baylor. Two weeks later, the Terrapins have another measuring-stick game on the road against No. 1 South Carolina.

“The toughest schedule we will have ever played,” said Brenda Frese, who has won 512 games at Maryland since 2002 and has been facing Big Ten foes in league games since 2014. “And then you look at just the Big Ten, it will be the toughest we’ve ever faced in our time being in the league.”

The Terrapins have six Big Ten regular season titles and have won the conference tournament five times in seven Big Ten seasons, but the competition might be catching up.

For the first time in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, the Big Ten has four teams in the top 15 and five among the top 20. The last time the conference had a trio of teams in the top 10 in any poll was on Feb. 9, 2004.

The Hoosiers, with their highest ranking in school history, were picked in the league poll to finish second in the conference followed by the Hawkeyes, Wolverines and No. 17 Ohio State.

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Michigan State, one of seven Big Ten teams to play in the last NCAA Tournament, ranks second in AP Top 25 votes among unranked teams.

“The league is as tough as ever and there are three really good teams at the top: Maryland, Indiana and Iowa,” Spartans coach Suzy Merchant said Tuesday. “There may be other conferences that are more top heavy, but top to bottom, the Big Ten is the best.”

It’s easy to see why Maryland appears to be the class of the conference.

The Terrapins’ top eight scorers are back from last year’s team that went 17-1 in the Big Ten, 26-3 overall and advanced to the NCAA Tournament round of 16.

Juniors Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller, both of whom averaged 17-plus points per game last season, helped the team lead the country with 90.8 points per game and rank first with 1.69 assists for every turnover.

“Maryland is different,” Merchant said. “They have size and experience with all five starters back, and they all score and they’re all going to be pros.”

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