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Maryland basketball vs. Illinois preview: Terps’ conference schedule begins

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Here we go.

NCAA Basketball: Charlotte at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland basketball opens Big Ten play with the first of two meetings with Illinois on Tuesday in College Park. The Terrapins (12-1) look to be off to a roaring start based on their record, but things have been far from smooth as the team has yet to put together a complete game and has had to claw its way back from alarming deficits. The Illini are no easy opening opponent, claiming three top-100 wins already over BYU, NC State and VCU.

The teams are set to tip at 5 p.m. on ESPN2.

Illinois Fighting Illini (10-3)

2015-16 record: 15-19

Head coach: John Groce is coaching his fifth season at Illinois and served four years at Ohio before that.

KenPom ranking: 66 (Maryland is 64)

Players to watch

Malcolm Hill, guard, senior, 6’6/225, No. 21

Hill is back and, like the year before, he’s one of the Big Ten’s best guards. Averaging 18 points per game, he’s firing a career best 42 percent from deep, dishing two assists and grabbing six rebounds. He’s dropped 40 points in a game against Northern Kentucky and 32 against IUPUI. He’s who makes this team run.

Leron Black, forward, redshirt sophomore, 6’7/220, No. 12

Black leads his team with seven rebounds and also scores 12 points per game in just 22 minutes. He’s pulling down defensive rebounds at the 65th highest percentage in the country and should be a real challenge for Justin Jackson.

Tracy Abrams, guard, graduate, 6’2/185, No. 13

Abrams is scoring 12 points per game and contributing a bit of everything with three assists and three rebounds as well. The near-25-year-old is finishing his final season after missing back-to-back years with injury.

Strengths

Shooting. Illinois has been accurate from everywhere this season, ranking 70th in three-point percentage, 78th in two-point percentage and 57th in effective field goal percentage.

Getting to the foul line. They might not get there as often as the Terps, but the Illini get to the stripe at the 84th best rate in the country. That’s not good news for Maryland’s foul-happy bigs.

Weaknesses

Turnovers. Illinois turns the ball over at the 242nd worst rate in the nation. No player struggles more than another, but five players are averaging more than 1.5 per game.

Blocks and steals. The Illini haven’t found much success in either, and because of it, struggle to force many turnovers.

Predictions

KenPom’s prediction: Maryland wins, 70-66. Terps have a 66 percent chance to win.

Matt’s prediction: Maryland wins, 62-61. With a 12-point first half deficit, Melo Trimble takes over late to seal the game at the free throw line because this is what happens every game.