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Maryland men’s basketball vs. No. 12 Illinois preview

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The Terps take on another difficult opponent as it pushes through Big Ten play.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Following its blowout loss to No. 5 Iowa on Thursday, Maryland men’s basketball faces another one of the conference’s strongest teams in No. 12 Illinois Sunday night.

Thursday’s defeat marked the third straight for Maryland, dropping the team to 6-6, the program’s worst start through 12 games since the 2007-08 season. With the Big Ten proving to be even stronger than it was in 2019-20, the Terps are in desperate need of a significant response before the season is completely derailed.

Sunday’s contest will be the latest edition of a budding rivalry between the Terps and Illini. Dating back to the 2016-17 season, matchups between the two programs have become increasingly contentious, with Illinois’ lone win in the last four seasons coming in an upset effort against then-No. 13 Maryland at Madison Square Garden in 2019.

Last season, the Terps defeated the Illini at Xfinity Center thanks to a deep three-pointer from Anthony Cowan Jr. in the closing moments, and overcame a 14-point deficit in Champaign to sweep the season series.

“We just love the competitive nature that they always bring and play,” senior Darryl Morsell said. “And you see it’s always a good game between us, so I love it.”

Now, with Illinois as one of the top teams in the conference while the Terps are mired at the bottom, the Fighting Illini are in prime position to cut into the 6-1 advantage Maryland holds over them since joining the Big Ten.

The game tips off at 8 p.m. and will be televised on Big Ten Network.

No. 12 Illinois Fighting Illini (9-3, 5-1 Big Ten)

2019-20 record: 21-10 (13-7 Big Ten)

Head coach Brad Underwood has transformed Illinois’ basketball program in just three seasons since taking the helm. After taking Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State to the NCAA Tournament in his previous stints, Underwood led the Illini to a 21-10 record last season and had his team in position to make a deep postseason run before COVID-19 hit.

However, Underwood’s squad has picked up right where it left off, having returned all five of his starters from a season ago. Two of Illinois’ losses have come to ranked opponents in No. 2 Baylor and No. 15 Rutgers, but the team defeated No. 21 Duke and is currently on a four-game win streak.

Players to Know

Ayo Dosunmu, junior guard, 6-foot-5, 200 lbs., No. 11 — After withdrawing from the 2020 NBA Draft, Dosunmu’s return has been massive for the Illini this season.

The preseason Wooden Award Watch List nominee has increased his scoring average in each season since his freshman year, setting a new career-high with 22.3 points per game this season. He also leads the team in assists (61), and is second in rebounds per game (6.8). A projected lottery pick in the 2021 draft, Dosumnu figures to continue his run dominance into a deep NCAA Tournament run.

“Every time [Dosunmu] steps on the floor, he just had that passion and that competitiveness to win,” Morsell said. “And that’s something I like respect as a player.”

Kofi Cockburn, sophomore forward, 7-foot, 285 lbs., No. 21 — Maryland has played several talented interior players over its past four games and won’t get any kind of break in going against Cockburn.

After an impressive freshman campaign in which he averaged 13.3 points per game, Cockburn has continued to improve in his second season, now scoring 17.0 points per game on 68.3% shooting from the field. Cockburn’s been a dominant force on the boards as well, pulling down 10.1 rebounds per game, which ranks 22nd in Division I.

Adam Miller, freshman guard, 6-foot-3, 180 lbs., No. 44 — A consensus four-star recruit, Miller has made an immediate impact in his freshman season, dropping 28 points in his Illini debut. Miller has started in every game this season for Illinois, averaging 9.3 points per contest. As one of the early candidates for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Miller has been more than willing pull the trigger from beyond the arc, taking 5.3 three-point attempts per game and shooting 34.4%.

Strength

Shooting efficiency. Whether its at the rim or behind the three-point line, Illinois has been incredibly efficient in scoring attack this season. As a team, the Illini have shot 52.4% from the field and 41.7% from three-point range, ranking 10th and sixth in the country in each those respective categories.

Weakness

Free throw shooting. Although Illinois has shot the ball extremely well from all over the floor, its struggled from the free throw line. The team has shot just 68.8% from the charity stripe this season, ranking 203rd in Division I and last in the Big Ten.

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Maryland do anything to limit Cockburn? Maryland has really struggled against the likes of Luka Garza, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Hunter Dickinson, but face a unique challenge in Cockburn on Sunday night.

Cockburn is far and away the biggest interior presence the Terps have faced this season, with his massive frame giving him 50 pounds over Maryland’s biggest players in Galin Smith and Jairus Hamilton. Whether Maryland can adjust and prevent being dominated on the inside or fall victim to the same personnel shortcomings will be a deciding factor in this one.

“We’re a different team than with Bruno here and then with [Jalen Smith] here, we’re different,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “But I think we’re getting closer to how we have to play to be successful.”

2. Can Darryl Morsell get back in rhythm? The senior guard made his return to the floor after a one-game absence, donning a face mask after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured bone in his face. However, Morsell looked anything but himself, finishing with just three points while committing six turnovers.

If the Terps are gonna have a chance at another road upset, they’re gonna need their senior leader to play a big role.

“Over the past couple days I’ve been in the gym, just trying to get familiar with [the mask],” Morsell said. “But it’s something I know that I have to wear moving forward, so it’s just all getting familiar with it and stuff. But it’s going well.”

3. Will Marcus Dockery get any extended runs? This year’s Terps squad has been pressed for guards that can handle the ball and contribute offensively, but it may have something in the freshman guard. The three-star recruit had his most productive game since joining the team against Iowa late, confidently knocking down a pair of three-pointers (albeit in garbage time) to score eight points.

Whether Turgeon trusts Dockery with any meaningful minutes as a result will be interesting to see.

“My comfort level has increased a lot,” Dockery said. “The comfort level really comes from the work that I’ve put in, and just being consistent with what I do. I’m just thankful that I get that opportunity.”

Predictions

Vegas: Illinois -11

ESPN BPI: Illinois 84.5%chance to win

Kenpom: Illinois 80, Maryland 70 (19% chance for Maryland to win)

Me: Illinois 80, Maryland 65