Following two electric performances against Marquette and Notre Dame, Maryland men’s basketball now turns to Illinois to tip off their Big Ten play. Last year’s game against the Fighting Illini resulted in a back and forth struggle, in which Illinois ultimately came out on top. Maryland turned the ball over 21 times in an ugly showing on both sides of the court. This season, both teams have improved — but the No. 3 Terps look to be worlds away from the unranked, 6-2 Illinois squad. For the Terps, this game is not about revenge — rather, it’s a perfect opportunity to go 10-0.
“We got to go out there and play our own game,” forward Donta Scott said. “We gotta go out there to win.”
This year, Maryland has the advantage of their home crowd in this Big Ten matchup, and a deeper bench to draw from. While at first glance the Terps are much more impressive than Illinois, the Fighting Illini have talent to draw from.
While center Kofi Cockburn leads the team in points with 16 per game, guard Ayo Donsunmu is not far behind with 15 points per game average. Guard Tevian Jones will be making his season debut against the Terps, and can provide a punch off the bench. Jones scored 18 the last time the two teams met. Guard Trent Frazier takes much of the defensive responsibilities at the perimeter and is arguably Illinois best defender.
Down in the block, Illinois flaunts seven-foot freshman Cockburn. He’s a tenacious rebounder, averaging 11 boards per game. Cockburn’s impressive rebounding stat line leads the Big Ten and embodies Illinois’ dominant effort crashing the boards this season. The Fighting Illini lead the nation with a 17.4 rebounding margin. For Maryland, the pace of Illinois and their rebounding ability is a pressing concern.
“[Illinois is] Arguably the fastest team we’re going to play all year,” said Coach Mark Turgeon “a lot of teams run but these guys are talented at the guard position.”
Maryland is certainly much more mature than last season, but it still has issues to address. Maryland’s turnovers coupled with Illinois’ aggressiveness on the boards give the Fighting Illini a perfect opportunity to push the pace and accumulate second chance points. They are notorious for starting games with energy and decreasing scoring pace as the game winds down. If Maryland begins the game poorly they will surely be spending yet another game battling back for a lead.
This Big Ten matchup will be the first of a slew of challenging opponents moving forward. The season has truly begun and it’s up to Maryland to decide their own fate as they go deeper into a tough Big Ten slate.