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VB Preview: B1G play begins in the Land of Lincoln

Maryland takes on #16 Illinois and Northwestern in the opening conference weekend.

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Welcome to the B1G time. Maryland opens their inaugural conference season tonight in Champaign, Illinois against #16 Illinois. On Saturday, they head north to Evanston to match up with Northwestern.

Popping the cork in Champaign Friday night

Tonight's match versus the Fighting Illini will be Maryland's first B1G contest and the first experience with a legitimate and possibly intimidating home crowd. Huff Hall is one the loudest venues in the country and its fans line the court, creating a home court advantage matched by few other schools.

Illinois is 8-3 on the season with losses to UCLA(#20), Stanford(#1) and Virginia Tech(#?). The Illini utilize a 6-2 offense with junior Alexis Viliunas and sophomore transfer Allison Palmer at the setting positions. The offense is led by 6-6 senior Liz McMahon at opposite and junior outside hitter Jocelynn Birks. McMahon (3.21 kills per set, .312 pct, and .90 blocks per set) is a four year starter with Final Four experience. Birks is coming off an All-American season last year and leads the team in kills per set with 3.77. Senior Anna Dorn is one of the top middles in the conference and is in the top 50 nationally in blocks per set (1.29).

Illinois is an experienced squad with size and power reminiscent of USC but one that does not possess the speed reminiscent of Washington from Maryland's matches last weekend. They do have the ability to impose their will with their blocking and they have plenty of power with both their outside and right side where they focus over 80 percent of their attack.

Saturday night live by the lake

Saturday night the Terps have a date with the Wildcats of Northwestern who received votes in the latest AVCA Top 25 Poll. They are 10-1 on the season with their only loss coming against #24 San Diego. The Wildcats have a very balanced offense with 4 players averaging over 2.5 kills per set. Senior outside hitter Yewande Akanbi (3.52 kps) and freshmen Symone Abbott (3.23 kps) are the top two attackers with sophomore Kayla Morin close behind (2.59 kps). Northwestern does not have the size or power of Illinois but is more athletic overall and consistently finds ways to win.

The opening weekend of B1G play will be a similar test to what the Terps faced last weekend. The added wrinkle will be two energetic home crowds to deal with. With Adreene Elliott out for the season, the serve receive and defense need to improve in order to maintain a balanced offense. The Illinois match will be the much tougher of the two with Saturday's match at Northwestern providing a definite chance for the Terps, if they play well,  to earn their first B1G win. Both the Friday and Saturday matches start at 8:00 pm EST and both can be seen on your BTN Plus subscription (btn2go.com).