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Maryland women’s basketball vs. Illinois preview: Terps hit the road to face Illini

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The Terps can win their 20th game of the year.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Connecticut at Maryland Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland women’s basketball has a chance to move to 20-1 this season and 8-0 in the Big Ten Thursday at Illinois.

The Terps last played Sunday, but some newsworthy things have happened since then. In good news, Brionna Jones took home Big Ten Co-Player of the Week honors (shared with Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell), while Kaila Charles was the conference’s Freshman of the Week. Jones has been at least a co-recipient four times this season (a solo winner twice), while Charles becomes the second Maryland freshman to be honored by the conference this year, joining Destiny Slocum.

In not-so-good news, the NCAA Tournament selection committee ranked the Terps No. 9 in the first seed rankings. It’s obviously perplexing to see the nation’s No. 3 team listed as a No. 3 seed, but apparently the committee is holding the weak Big Ten and a mostly-soft non-conference schedule against Maryland. This probably isn’t worth getting worked up over just yet—it’s just too tough to imagine the Terps being seeded lower than last year, especially if they win out—but there’s definitely some motivation to be found from this.

Illinois isn’t concerning itself with tournament seedings right now. This is an incredibly young team, with seven freshmen and just one senior on the roster. The Illini have beaten Rutgers by 37 points and lost to Central Michigan by 31. They’re 0-8 away from home, but have a six-game winning streak in Champaign.

This contest tips off at 8 p.m. ET and can be seen on BTN Plus.

Illinois Fighting Illini (8-12, 3-4 Big Ten)

2015-16 record: 9-21, 2-16

The coach: Matt Bollant is in his fifth year at Illinois; he has a 60-85 record with the program. He previously coached Green Bay to four straight NCAA Tournaments from 2008-12 before jumping to Champaign.

Players to know

Alex Wittinger, sophomore, forward, 6’1, No. 35. Not only does Wittinger lead the team with 15 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, but her 2.4 blocks are tops in the whole Big Ten. She’s the closest thing the team has to a center, so she’ll be on Bri Jones duty for this one.

Brandi Beasley, freshman, guard, 5’6, No. 1. Leads the team in minutes and has put up a pretty impressive stat line of 11.5 points, 5.6 boards and 4.2 assists. She’ll hoist up her shots (over 10 per game), but hasn’t been that efficient (.395/.295/.625).

Petra Holesinska, freshman, guard, 5’9, No. 13. The Czech freshman is averaging 9.9 points for the year and 13 in Big Ten play. Over half of her shots this season have come from beyond the arc, where she shoots 34.1 percent.

Strength

Three-point defense. Opponents are shooting just 30 percent from deep against the Illini; Big Ten teams are at 28.7 percent. Of course, Illinois’ 30.6 percent figure doesn’t give them much of a leg up here.

Weakness

Rebounding. Illinois is minus-3.6 on the boards this season and minus-9.0 in conference play, which...yikes.

Prediction

Maryland wins, 79-67.