Dec 20, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Rayvonte Rice (24) dribbles the ball around Missouri Tigers guard Deuce Bello (2) during the second half at Scottrade Center. The Illinois Fighting Illini defeat the Missouri Tigers 62-59. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
When Maryland travels to Champaign on Wednesday, the Terrapins will have a much easier path to a potential victory than originally anticipated.
Illinois guard and leading scorer Rayvonte Rice fractured his left hand in practice and will likely be sidelined for the next six weeks. The senior led the Fighting Illini in points-per-game (17.2), rebounds-per-game (6.9), and steals-per-game (1.8).
Just how big of an impact will Rice’s absence have on the Illini?
First of all, Rice is a superb athlete that can make an impact anywhere on the court. His athleticism can be likened to Maryland guard Dez Wells as Rice makes a living throwing down dunks above the rim. The Drake transfer also is a strong finisher that isn’t phased by defenders in the lane. To put his scoring acumen into perspective, Rice has scored in double figures in all but one game this season. The Illinois guard’s 17.2 points-per-game ranked fifth in the Big Ten just behind guys like D.J. Newbill (Penn State), Terran Petteway (Nebraska), and D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State).
Rice is also an above-average shooter from beyond the arc. In 15 game so far during the 2014-15 season, the Champaign native is shooting 48.3 percent (29-of-60) from three and connected on multiple three-pointers in nine of those contests. Rice is a very talented spot-up shooter that doesn’t need much room in order to make his shot fall.
Rice accounts for just under 25 percent of Illinois’ scoring this season. The Illini average 76.9 points-per-game, which is good for 30th in the country and fourth in the Big Ten. He is one of those star players that the offense always runs through and he touches the ball on nearly every offensive possession.
Without Rice, sophomore guard Malcom Hill is the only other Illinois player that averages double figures (13.1 points-per-game). In Rice’s place, Seton Hall transfer Aaron Cosby will likely step into the starting lineup. Cosby is averaging 7.9 points-per-game and has been a solid piece off the bench for the Illini. He likes to shoot from beyond the arc (5.2 attempts-per-game), but is only connecting at a 33 percent clip. Illinois will need Cosby to be more efficient from beyond the arc if they want to hand Maryland their second loss of the season.
Despite Rice not being in the lineup, the Terrapins defensive strategy may not change a ton. If Cosby does end up starting in place of him, Illinois can continue to run their four-guard sets. From a defensive standpoint, Maryland can afford to go smaller and play with four guards at times if they want to. With Damonte Dodd emerging in the middle, that position is stable and guys like Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley may be able to put more playing time.
Maryland really dodged a bullet with Rice suffering a fractured hand when he did. The Terps are in line for their third Big Ten win and a tough one on the road at that.