Jan 3, 2015; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins head coach Mark Turgeon during a game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Maryland started off Big Ten play in style with a double overtime win on the road against perennial powerhouse Michigan State, and then a home win vs. up and coming Minnesota. Both games showed Maryland’s commitment to being a good defensive team and their ability to go on spurts offensively. Consistency will need to be cleaned up moving forward, but in both games Maryland was able to control the boards, which is an area they had struggled in before.
Illinois is off to a poor start in Big Ten play after blowing a double digit lead on the road to Michigan and blowing a halftime lead at Ohio State. They played a strong non-conference and earned neutral site wins against Baylor and Missouri, but missed opportunities for ranked wins against Miami and Villanova. Not only would beating Maryland give them a marquee win, but it would give them a Big Ten win before going on the road for back-to-back games.
Watching Illinois against Michigan and Ohio State showed the ups and downs of them this year. In both games they were able to build leads but couldn’t hang on to them in the second half. A common theme arose from watching this, and that is the lack of mental fortitude Illinois has. Forced shots and turnovers plagued them in both games and happened as soon their opponent began to make a run. Illinois scored less than thirty points in the second half of both their Big Ten games, and they are shooting 42.7% from the field in conference play.
For Maryland to continue their hot start in Big Ten play these will be the biggest keys:
1) Sound Man-To-Man Defense/Stopping Transition
As mentioned, when teams began to make runs against Illinois they reverted to forced shots from too much one-on-one play. Illinois ranks 108th and 112th in assists per game (13.9) and field goal percentage (44.9%). Given their low assist numbers and low field goal percentage, it shows how they are isolation driven. While Illinois may not get as much in transition as Michigan State and Minnesota, they are still attempting 22% of their field goals in transition and they rank 59th in adjusted tempo according to KenPom.
Maryland is a great defensive team, who just held two up-tempo teams to under seventy points. They will have to focus on stopping transition like they had to against Minnesota and Michigan State, but for the most part they will need to be strong in their man-to-man defense. Forcing tough mid-range jumpers will be the goal for Maryland’s defense. Illinois doesn’t shoot a high percentage and as the numbers revolution in basketball has taught us, the long two is the worst shot in basketball, and this what Illinois is settling for. Illinois is yet to score over sixty-five in Big Ten play, and the goal should be hold them to sixty-five or under.
2) Rayvonte Rice Vs Dez Wells
The do all guard for Illinois plays a large role in creating the offense. His numbers have increased across the board to 17.2 PPG 6.9 RPG 2.2 APG. At 6’4” and 230 lbs. it is important to note his importance on the glass. Illinois ranks 112th in rebounds per game at 36.8, which is around what Maryland has given up in two Big Ten games. Against Michigan, Rice struggled to score the ball but still impacted the game by pulling down eleven rebounds and six assists. Given Rice’s size, I believe we will see Dez Wells draw the responsibility of guarding him for most of the game. Dez will need to make sure he can contain Rice on the glass, while also staying out of foul trouble.
On the offensive end, Dez might not be able to use his ever improving post game against the bigger Rice. Most importantly for Dez will be to make sure he isn’t trying to take on Rice too much one-on-one as Rice has been averaging a little under two steals per game every season. Dez has seen his turnovers per game go up to 3.3, and while that could be a product of missing games and eleven turnovers in the past two games, it is still an area of concern. If Rice is causing a tough time for Dez offensively, it could lead to him jump-starting the struggling Illinois offense in transition.
3) Jake Layman
Much was made about the improvements Layman had shown during the non-conference season. His scoring, rebounding, passing, and efficiency have all increased from last year. But so far in Big Ten play he has struggled to impact the game the way he was in the non-conference. Against Michigan State he finished with only four points and missed both of his free throws and three-point attempts. He bounced back against Minnesota and scored twelve, but was largely invisible and committed four uncharacteristic turnovers when attacking. Maryland has been billed as having a three headed monster in Dez Wells, Melo Trimble, and Jake Layman, and for the Terps to win again on the road they will need those three clicking.
Illinois runs a small line-up, opting to play with four guards and Nnanna Eqwu at center. This should give Layman an advantage with a smaller defender on him. Leron Black will see some time at the four spot to guard Layman, but he only averages 14.3 minutes per game. Seeing Layman be aggressive on offense will be a welcomed slight for coach Turgeon as it will force coach John Groce to make an adjustment to his four guard line-up. Layman will also have an advantage on the glass, which can help him to create offense for himself off of offensive rebounds. Look for Layman to be a big factor offensively and defensively for Maryland.
Winning on the road in conference is never easy and Illinois will present a challenge to Maryland. They are a desperate team in danger of seeing their NCAA Tournament hopes slip away. Will Maryland be mentally ready to handle the challenge of playing a desperate team on the road? Can Maryland use their defense to force Illinois to break down like they did against Michigan and Ohio State?