I think one of the last games, if not the last game, that I went to in Cole Field House was the Maryland -Illinois game in November of 2001. Ahh, the memories. The Terps beat a pretty jet lagged team up and down the court. The Terps were ranked #5, and the Illini were #2. It was a great game. Fast forward ten years (yikes) and we have the same match up. The difference is neither of these teams are sniffing the top 25, let alone the top 5.
Illinois comes into the game with a 6-0 record. The wins include such powers as: Loyola-Illinois, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, Lipscomb (Ha), Richmond, Illinois state, and Chicago State. Let’s just say those most likely aren’t going to be listed as key wins come March. The good news for Illinois is they have won them all. The bad news for Illinois is some of them have been closer than they would have liked such as the 63-59 Illinois State Game. So you see, they aren’t all that much different from Maryland. In fact you could say they haven’t been truly tested yet.
The good news for Maryland, is this game is being played at Comcast Center. The bad news for Maryland is Illinois does do a little pressing this year. I watched the highlights of the Chicago State game, and Chicago St. actually broke it and got an easy basket. Unfortunately, I don’t think Maryland miraculously developed a press offense let a lone a solid press break since the Iona and Florida Gulf Coast games. All season we are going to be focusing on improvement. Sure it will be nice to see some wins along the way, but I will settle for signs of things to come for most of the players on this team. And one thing I am going to be focussing on is the press break. It (along with free throw shooting) is problem number 1. It doesn’t appear the Illini press to turn you over as much as they do to slow you down from starting your offense. I could be wrong on that, but in the limited bit of “tape” I have seen they aren’t the early 90′s Arkansas.
We know what we are going to get from the Terps. How about the Illini. Who is going to be the little used reserve to shoot us out of the game this year? You know there will be one. If you think this game is going to resemble last seasons, you are mistaken. Both teams lost significant contributors.
Junior guard D.J. Richardson leads them in scoring with 13.5 points per game, but comes in scoring over 15 in each of his last three. By the way he is shooting 40% from three on the year.
Meyers Leonard could be an area where Illinois could have an advantage. The sophomore is listed at 7-1 and is averaging 12.3 points and 6.8 boards. If the Illini pounds it inside even a little, he could get the Terps front court into some serious foul trouble. He is also averaging 3.8 blocks. With James Padgett wanting to take the ball low on every shot/drive and Terrell Stoglin trying to drive the lane, I expect him to get his average and then some.
Senior Sam Maniscalo is the final player averaging in double figures, checking in with 11.5 points. The Terps will have to be sure to find him on the perimeter. He is not afraid to jack it up. If he gets hot he could fill it up. He is a first year transfer from Bradley and is expected to help run the offense, but has the ability to knock it down.
One player to keep an eye on is freshman Myke Henry. He has played little so far this season, but did drop 14 in the last game against Chicago State. He was highly regarded coming out of high school, and appeared to have a little bit of a break out in their last game. Is he this years seldom used guard to shoot the Terps out of the gym?
So there is a little on the Illini. Sorry I haven’t caught them live yet, and all I really got were highlights of some of the early games. Suffice it to say they are there for the taking if, and it is an if we have yet to see, Maryland can handle full court pressure. There aren’t going to be a lot of games this season where I truly believe the Terps have a really good chance at winning. Illinois is still trying to figure out who they are. They are a bit like the Terps with the loss of a lot of their key components from last year.