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Maryland women's basketball preview: Terps travel to Illinois to start Big Ten play

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And so it begins.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland women's basketball begins Big Ten play Thursday afternoon in Champaign, as the Terps battle the up-and-coming Illinois Fighting Illini. The game can be streamed, with a subscription,on BTN2Go.

Fans learned a lot about this year's team in the non-conference slate of games, particularly Monday's matchup against No. 1 UConn. Maryland enters Big Ten play with an 11-1 record, and hopes to continue its dominance over the rest of the conference. Last season, the Terps went 18-0 in conference play before winning the tournament, and this year they are expected to do roughly the same. But games and championships are won on the hardwood floor rather than on paper, and for the first time this year, Maryland will be playing a true road game. Here goes nothing.

Illinois (7-4)

The coach

Matt Bollant. In his 4th year tasting Champaign. The team put together a winning record in his first season at the helm, but fell to dead last in the conference in 2013-14 and 10th last year. He previously coached at Bryan College (Division II) and Green Bay, where he won five Horizon League titles and reached the Sweet 16 in 2011.

Players to know

Chatrice White, sophomore, center, 6'3, No. 32. Leads the team with 18 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Her 197 shot attempts are far and away more than any teammate, but she shoots a semi-abysmal 39.6 percent from the field and a pretty-much-abysmal 16.3 percent from downtown. The Terps will want to force her away from the basket.

Kyley Simmons, redshirt senior, guard, 5'7, No. 15. Has made 34 of 75 (45.3 percent) of her threes this year. She records 12.5 points and 4.2 assists per game, and also averages a staggering 34.5 minutes.

Cierra Rice, freshman, guard, 5'9, No. 5. A four-star recruit out of Michigan who started the team's first 10 games and averaged 13.6 points, 4.5 boards and 2.6 assists a night. She missed Monday's game against George Washington for reasons I have been unable to discover, which leads me to believe she'll be back against Maryland. But we'll see.

Strength

Three-point shooting. Simmons, Rice and sophomore guard Brooke Kissinger are all over 40 percent, and the team as a whole is shooting 35 percent despite White's 7-43 mark. Nearly 37 percent of the Illini's shots come from beyond the arc.

Weakness

Experience. In a nine-woman rotation, Illinois plays 3 freshmen and 3 sophomores. In the near future, these players may turn around a program used to finishing in the bottom half of the Big Ten, but Maryland will probably be the best team most of them have ever faced. That's not a good thought to have going into a game.

Prediction

Maryland, 78-59.