It could be a crossroads game, or two Big Ten teams could continue on their respective trajectories on Thursday night when the Maryland Terrapins travel to Champaign to face the Fighting Illini. Maryland has lost its first two Big Ten games, including Monday’s five-point loss at Iowa that snapped a three-game winning streak for the 8-5 Terps. The Illini are 3-0 in the Big Ten, including a win over Iowa, to head into Thursday at 10-3 on the year.
Maryland Terrapins vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
Thursday, 6 January 2022 – 7:00 PM EST at State Farm Center
Change Is Good
Maryland has gone 3-2 since head coach Mark Turgeon stepped down, in favor of interim coach Danny Manning. The wins included a victory over the No. 20 Florida to start a three-game winning streak. The Terrapins were also impressive against a strong Iowa team last time out.
The Terrapins made the decision to stay on the road for the three days in between games at Iowa and Thursday’s contest in Illinois, rather than return East to campus. Manning said he expected it to help the team bond.
Several Maryland players seem to have responded to the change, including senior Eric Ayala. The All-Big Ten player had slumped earlier this season, averaging just seven points and hitting 25 percent of his shots as Maryland lost three straight. Since then, however, Ayala has been on a tear, topping 19 points in four straight games and hitting 52 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from three.
Hakim Hart has also come out of his shell. He doubled his season point total in the five games since Manning has been in charge. Hart is averaging 13.4 PPG under Manning, up from 7.0 under Turgeon. Hart has scored double-figures in each of the last six games after doing it just nine times in his first 55 college games. His shot attempts have gone way up with the coaching change. He’s averaging 8 per game, up from 4.6.
No answer for the Big Man
Illinois will have a fairly obvious game plan—get the ball inside to Kofi Cockburn. The seven-footer is averaging 22.5 PPG and 11.9 rebounds, second and third in the nation, respectively. Cockburn is also hitting 60 percent of his shots. He’s a big reason why Illinois is one of the top shooting teams in the country—The Illini rank No. 12 in effective field goal percentage and are among the nation’s leaders in both two and three-point shooting accuracy.
When Illinois misses, the Illini are also No. 2 in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. Maryland’s interior tandem of Qudus Wahab and Julian Reese has the Terps No. 38 in two-point defense and No. 45 on the defensive boards. Wahab and Reese will be tested against Cockburn.
Illinois is trying to get back to full strength after the COVID-19 shutdown. The Illini have gotten back Austin Hutcherson and Andre Curbelo for Thursday's game, although coach Brad Underwood said the team’s stamina was still suffering from all the practice time missed.
Illinois should have its legs under it a little more after easing back into the playing schedule with a blowout of Minnesota. Maryland has struggled with production from its bench—the Terps got just five bench points in the Iowa game—so the Terrapins won’t be in a position to wear down Illinois with numbers, especially if Reese and Wahab struggle with foul trouble trying to contain Cockburn. Take a note of this so that you can cash out our college basketball picks.
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