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Maryland vs. Illinois preview: Terps travel to Champaign looking for 3-0

After wins over potential tournament teams in Michigan State and Minnesota, Maryland faces another one on the road Wednesday.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland's first Big Ten schedule could have started easier, with a road trip to perennial contender Michigan State followed by games against bubble teams Minnesota and Illinois. Wednesday, the Terps play the Illini, traveling back on the road for a chance at a third straight impressive conference victory. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network, with streaming available on BTN2Go.

The Illini are 10-5 this season, opening Big Ten play with road losses to Michigan and Ohio State. Illinois is ranked No. 56 in KenPom, with their only top-100 win an impressive 62-54 neutral-site win over then No. 16 Baylor. The Illini have some not-great losses, falling to No. 73 Miami, No. 61 Oregon and No. 91 Michigan, but they're still in contention for a tournament bid if they can finish strong in conference play.

After two NCAA Tournament appearances in four seasons with Ohio (including a Sweet Sixteen run as a No. 13 seed in 2012), John Groce took the head coaching job at Illinois prior to the 2012-13 season. After a successful first season saw the Illini go 23-13 and make it to the Round of 32, Illinois missed the tournament last season and finished tied for eighth in the Big Ten.

Players to know

Rayvonte Rice, senior, 6'4. One of the conference's best scorers, Rice leads Illinois with 17.2 points per game. He's shooting 53.3% from two this year, 48.3% from three and 80.3% from the free throw line, and can hurt defenses in a variety of ways. Rice is one of the most efficient offensive players in the nation: his ORtg of 126.2 ranks 58th. He also leads the team with 6.9 rebounds per game. UPDATE: Looks like Rice will miss the game with injury.

Malcolm Hill, sophomore, 6'6. The Illini's only other player averaging in double digits, Hill is scoring 13.1 points per game. He's less of a three-point threat than Rice (although he is averaging 40.7% from deep), but gets to the line more and is a better offensive rebounder.

Nnanna Egwu, senior, 6'11. Beyond Rice and Hill, there's not much going on scoring-wise for the Illini, but Egwu is an interesting option. He's a big man who's a solid rebounder and shot-blocker, but also brings this to the table: despite his height, he's made 17 of 20 free throw attempts this season. That's incredibly valuable for a big man, and he adds a different dimension to their offense.

Kendrick Nunn, sophomore, 6'3. Like Rice at small forward, Nunn gives Illinois a shooting-heavy option at shooting guard. He's made 20 of 45 three-point attempts this season (44.4%), and he's also been a good defender -- he averages 1.2 steals per game and is rarely called for fouls.

Ahmad Starks, senior, 5'9. The Illini point guard is really struggling from deep this season, and it's bringing the whole offense down with him. He's shooting 29.7% from three-point range, while averaging 2.9 assists against 1.2 turnovers per game.


Free-throw shooting. Illinois is one of the first teams Maryland has come up against that can compete with them on the line, shooting 77.6% from the stripe this season (fourth nationally). That effort is led by Starks, Egwu, Rice, Nunn, Aaron Cosby and Maverick Morgan, each shooting above 80% this year. An advantage in this area has helped Maryland in close games multiple times this season, and it could still help them here: unlike the Terps, the Illini don't get to the line very often, in large part due to their three-point focused offense.

Not turning the ball over. Another result of an offense with high percentage of possessions ending in a three-point attempt, Illinois doesn't often put the ball in a position of being harassed by the other team. Still, Illinois gives the ball away on just 15.2% of their possessions, good for ninth in the country.


Offensive rebounding. Rice does a fine job on the defensive boards, but his ability as a shooter takes him away from the basket on offensive possessions. Illinois has to rely on Hill and Egwu for offensive rebounds, and while they've both been adequate, neither stands out in the area.

Scoring options. Only Rice and Hill are averaging in double figures. While the rest of the offense has talent, Illinois hasn't consistently shown they can do much beyond those two.


KenPom’s prediction: Maryland, 67-66. 56% chance Maryland wins.

Pete's prediction: Maryland, 72-63.