PREVIEW: Illinois vs. Maryland

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper breaks down Illinois' rematch with Maryland at the State Farm Center on Saturday.

Illinois (12-5, 2-2) vs.

Maryland (15-2, 3-1)

Date & Time: Jan. 14, 5 p.m. CT

Location: State Farm Center (Champaign, Ill.)

TV: ESPN2

Quick Hits

  • Illinois has won eight of their last 10, and they are 9-1 at the State Farm Center this season.
  • On Wednesday against Michigan, the Illini had their highest field goal percentage (64.2) since Jan. 2011 vs. Northwestern (70.5).
  • Illinois is looking to win consecutive Big Ten regular season games for the first time since 2015.
  • The Illini are 7-0 in their home throwback jerseys this season.
  • Illinois is 20-18 in Big Ten home games under John Groce.
  • Maryland won the first meeting this season 84-59 in the Big Ten opener.
  • The Terps are coming off a 75-72 win vs. Indiana on Tuesday.
  • Maryland is 10-9 in Big Ten road games under Mark Turgeon.
  • The Terps are 7-5 all-time against Illinois, and have won the last two by 51 points combined.
  • Illinois won the last meeting in Champaign 64-57 in Jan. 2015.
  • Vegas has the Illini as three-point favorites as of Saturday morning.

Projected Starters

Tracy Abrams (GR): Abrams' shooting funk continues, as he's shot just 28.1 percent in Big Ten play with a 1-of-16 mark from three. He had four points and three assists on Wednesday against Michigan. But Illinois' starting point guard has posted a -46 in the plus/minus since the conference slate began.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (SO): Coleman-Lands has been red-hot with his outside stroke, as he's connected on 11 of 17 treys (64.7 percent) in the last three games combined. He had 12 points and four assists in the win on Wednesday. Groce said he feels as though Coleman-Lands is beginning to hit his stride in many facets.

Malcolm Hill (SR): Hill ended his streak of four straight 20-point outings, but the Illini hardly complained with his 15 points on eight shots in a balanced attack against Michigan. He is second in the conference with 18.6 points per game. Hill was one of the few who played up to par in the first meeting vs. Maryland with 21 points and seven rebounds. He'll need another strong outing.

Leron Black (R-SO): Black broke out of his scoring slump on Wednesday with his first double-digit performance since Dec. 10. He finished with 10 points and five rebounds against Michigan. Groce noted on Friday that Black has the ability to impact the game without making a shot. His energy, rebounding and defense will be important, but the Illini could use a few buckets from him as well.

Maverick Morgan (SR): Morgan is further solidifying himself as one of the most consistent low-post scorers in the conference. He had 16 points (8-9) and four assists on Wednesday. He has scored in double figures in six of the last seven games, and his 61.5 field goal percentage is third in the Big Ten. But Morgan's quietest game recently was at Maryland with just five points.

Bench

Te'Jon Lucas (FR): Lucas was a high-impact performer in Illinois' win over Michigan with five points, eight assists and only one turnover in a career-high 23 minutes. He put life in the offense with his pace and vision. The Illini are looking for more of the same. Can he do it against what Groce called "a two-headed point guard monster" that Maryland possesses?

Kipper Nichols (R-FR): Like Lucas, Nichols took his opportunity on Wednesday and ran with it by posting 13 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes. He was a physical presence on the interior due to his athleticism and motor. He snatched five offensive boards and had three putback buckets. Nichols helps the Illini out defensively as well, and this is a game to show it.

Michael Finke (R-SO): Finke came off the bench and made shots against Michigan, as he went 4-of-4 from the field and knocked down a pair of threes. When the Illini are able to penetrate and move the ball, that is when Finke becomes all the more dangerous around the perimeter. He played with good energy on Wednesday too in his 12 minutes.

Aaron Jordan (SO): Jordan played double-digit minutes on Wednesday for the first time since November. He registered two rebounds in his 10 minutes of action. It's possible for him to continue to find playing time if he defends consistently, and converting on his opportunities from three wouldn't hurt either.

Mike Thorne Jr. (GR): We expected a change to Thorne's role heading into the Michigan game, and the 6-foot-11 big man did not play against the Wolverines. That was his first DNP of the season. Thorne has not rebounded at a high rate, nor has he been much help defensively. But he should get some run against Maryland with the way their frontcourt stacks up.

Jaylon Tate (SR): Tate was also withheld from action on Wednesday, as Groce allocated all of the backup point guard minutes to Lucas. Tate averaged 14 minutes per game in the first three Big Ten contests. If Lucas continues to play well, Tate will likely continue to sit.

D.J. Williams (SO): Williams was absent from Wednesday's game in what was described as a "temporary leave from the team due to personal reasons", according to a team spokesman. The sophomore forward returned to practice on Friday, though, and Groce said he would be available for action in Saturday's contest.

Maryland Starters

Anthony Cowan (FR): Cowan shredded the Illini defense with his quickness in the first meeting. He finished with 12 points and six assists in 34 minutes. On the season, Cowan is averaging 10.6 points and 3.6 assists per game. He had 15 points and three steals against the Hoosiers on Tuesday.

Melo Trimble (JR): Trimble ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 17.5 points per game. He had 20 points in the conference opener against the Illini. Trimble is another problem for Illinois to deal with off the dribble. He had 18 points in the win over Indiana, and he went 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.

Kevin Huerter (FR): The 6-foot-7 freshman has the ability to burn you from the outside. He hit seven threes in a close loss to Nebraska. He's gone 12-of-22 (54.5 percent) from deep through the last three games. Huerter hit three treys, and had 11 points and seven rebounds against Indiana.

Justin Jackson (FR): Jackson has been one of the most productive freshmen in the conference with 10.8 points and a team-high 5.9 rebounds per game. He had 12 points, four rebounds and two blocks against the Illini last month. On Tuesday, he posted 11 points, six rebounds and two blocks against the Hoosiers.

Damonte Dodd (SR): Dodd got high praise from Groce on Friday, who said he reminded him of Nnanna Egwu with his defensive impact. Dodd had six blocks on Tuesday against Indiana to go along with six points and six boards. He missed the first meeting with Illinois due to an MCL sprain, but he will surely be a factor this time around.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Repeatability. Illini nation is thrilled with the way their freshmen played on Wednesday night, and why wouldn't they be? Lucas and Nichols brought a surge of energy and productivity, and Illinois played some of their best basketball of the year -- especially at the offensive end. Now, it's about consistency. That's what Groce has been harping on from the moment the Michigan game ended. Extra effort must be put in to remind freshmen to stay hungry, stay locked in and remember that every day is a new day. Lucas and Nichols are huge components yet again in this game. Lucas can be an offensive spark and help Illinois fare better this time around against Cowan and Trimble. Nichols can bring his versatility and motor, and he could be a nice defensive option for Groce to use on Jackson. However, it can't just automatically be assumed that they will put together another strong showing. And the question of consistency goes beyond these two young players. It goes for veterans too and this team as a whole. Illinois has been largely inconsistent (even in nonconference wins) and one of the bigger enigmas in the conference -- at the very least. Who is this team? Is it the one that showed up against Michigan? We'll see against a much tougher opponent.

2. Dribble-drive defense. When it comes to repeating, one of the things Illinois would like to avoid is their defensive showing against the Terps the first time. Maryland turned the Illini defense into a layup line with drives to the cup, as they went for 48 points in the paint. They shot 55.9 percent from the field, and finished 26-of-38 (68.4 percent) from two. Illinois tried man. They tried zone. Neither kept the ball in front. Maryland's offense is predicated on Cowan and Trimble making plays off the bounce. They're great at getting to the rim. They get to the foul line at a high rate. And their penetration opens up the Terps' shooters from the outside. The Illini hope to be improved with keeping Maryland's guards in front, but they can't possibly expect to keep them contained on the perimeter. The Terps use the ball-screen well, and Illinois will need their help defense to provide aid on the frontside and near the basket.

3. Use the crowd. For a game that lacked the Orange Krush, the State Farm Center was loud and involved on Wednesday against Michigan. They had reason to be, and they'll be ready to do it again given the opportunity on Saturday. Playing at home is a major advantage in this league, and this is a big reason why. If Illinois is able to come out strong, they can swing momentum on their side early. And it's important in late-game situations too. Playing on the road can be a challenge for a young team, and Maryland is that. Can Illinois make 'The Farm' a tough place for them?

Prediction

The Illini should be in this game, unlike the previous two matchups against this team that saw them down double digits at halftime and trailing by as many as 31 in the second half. That being said, there's reason to be skeptical about Illinois pulling out the victory. Maryland's backcourt is a big problem for these defensively-deficient Illini. And we're talking about a team that hasn't had back-to-back Big Ten regular season wins since 2015. They're certainly capable, and a win would be huge for Illinois' tournament outlook. KenPom is predicting a 72-70 win for the home team. But while Vegas has Illinois as the favorite, safe money is on the Terps from this vantage point.

Maryland 78, Illinois 72


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