Maryland will look to recover from a loss to Michigan State with a trip to New York to face Illinois on Saturday.
As the Terps take on the Illini in some unfamiliar territory, both teams are seeking a win in the famous Madison Square Garden. For an inside scoop on Illinois, we reached out to Gavin Good of the Daily Illini. His answers have been slightly edited for clarity.
The Illini are winless on the road this season. What has been the biggest issue for the team playing away from the State Farm Center?
The Illini have struggled away from the State Farm Center this season, but to me, it seems to be more of a personnel problem rather than an environmental problem. Illinois has played more games than usual away from home, thanks to their participation in the Maui Invitational.
But they took an elite Gonzaga team to the wire and had a chance to win the game with a minute to go, then collapsed, losing by six. They looked to beat Notre Dame at the buzzer, but Trent Frazier’s would-be game-winner went halfway down the cylinder of the hoop before bouncing out.
The Illini also have a nasty habit of going scoreless for long stretches and that combines with poor perimeter defense, which will kill a team on the road in the Big Ten.
This is no typical home game for the Terps. What are your thoughts on this game being played in Madison Square Garden?
It’s no typical home game for Maryland, and it’s no typical road game for Illinois either, though they’ve played five “neutral” site games if you include this and a game against Ohio State at the United Center. Generally, I feel it is not to a program’s advantage to take would-be home contests and play them elsewhere. But money talks, and the Big Ten likes money, so the Garden beckons.
Maryland has struggled with turnovers in a few losses this season, and Illinois is second in the Big Ten in steals per game. How much does Illinois rely on its defense to fuel its offense?
Defense seems to be a real hit-or-miss concept for Illinois this season. They gave up a whopping 15 threes in a road blowout at Iowa last weekend, then forced Wisconsin into 17 turnovers at the State Farm Center on Wednesday.
In that game, Illinois got out in transition and was able to go basket-for-basket with the Badgers, that is, until they hit another scoring drought and only hit three of their field goal attempts in the final ten minutes of the game. In this case, they weren’t able to turn the turnovers into enough points. But when the Illini can turn teams over and get out ahead in transition, they’re at their best.
Thanks in large part to Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith, Maryland is in the top 50 in the nation in rebounds and blocks per game. How will the Illini limit the damage done by the Terps’ frontcourt?
Short answer: They probably won’t.
Long answer: Illinois only has one reliable big man, freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili, who has struggled to stay out of foul trouble when teams attack him at the rim. When he doesn’t get into foul trouble though, he can be tough to beat. With some help from senior guard Aaron Jordan, Bezhanishvili limited Wisconsin stud Ethan Happ to just nine points on Wednesday, and he turned the ball over six times. Expect head coach Brad Underwood to give freshman seven-footer Samba Kane some more minutes against the Terps, especially if Bezhanisvhili picks up some early fouls. Fernando and Smith will be a huge test for both of the Illinois freshmen.
Illinois wins if…
Bezhanishvili can be effective in the post offensively and defensively. It will be happen if guards Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu can figure out how to have good games at the same time. When they’re both clicking offensively, the Illini can hang with anyone. They just haven’t done that much this year, though.
Maryland wins if…
They can work through their bigs offensively and get to the foul line a lot, while holding Frazier and Dosunmu at bay. Like Illinois, Maryland’s got a lot of young talent, but they’ve been able to use it much more cohesively so far this year.