The Maryland basketball team is ready to begin Big Ten play after a week off for the holidays.
After dispatching of Charlotte in their nonconference finale, the Terrapins will host Illinois in their first conference game of the 2016-17 season.
Maryland has jumped out to a 12-1 record with their only blemish being a loss against Pittsburgh in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Terps have wins over Georgetown, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State during those first 13 games.
Star guard Melo Trimble has been playing some of the best basketball of his career. The junior is averaging a career-high 17.9 points and is getting to the free throw line much more than he did as a sophomore.
Coach Mark Turgeon has also gotten significant contributions from his talented trio of freshmen.
Forward Justin Jackson has been about as big of an addition as you’ll see in the Big Ten. Jackson was a late signee after decommitting from UNLV after coach Dave Rice was fired.
Jackson currently leads the team in rebounds (6.0) and is second on the team in points (10.8). The East York, Ontario native has offered a tremendous amount of length and production in the frontcourt for a group that desperately needs it.
Guard Anthony Cowan has taken some of the pressure off of Trimble. Cowan has been the team’s primary ball-handler a good chunk of the time, which has allowed Trimble to be more of a scorer.
Cowan is averaging 10.6 points and also leads the Terps in assists (3.8).
Three Keys to Victory
- Slow down Malcolm Hill – Hill is one of the most gifted scorers in the Big Ten. He’s scored the second-most points (239) and is averaging 18.4 points this season. Hill is a guy that really excels on the perimeter as he’s shooting 41.8 percent from beyond the arc. The senior also rebounds the basketball very well at 6.3 per contest, which isn’t surprising for a 6’6 guard. Simply put: Hill is the type of player that needs to be accounted for on every possession and Maryland may even need a help defender to slow him down.
- Defend the three – The Fighting Illini are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the Big Ten. They connect on 39.7 percent of their long-range shots and boast a pair of players that shoot above 40 percent (Tracy Abrams & Hill). This should be a very intriguing battle because Maryland ranks third in the conference in defending the three. The Terps allow just 31.3 percent of their opponents’ three-point shots to fall. If Maryland can force Illinois into bad jump shots or to put the ball on the floor, it could go a long way towards deciding the outcome.
- Frontcourt production – Maryland’s frontcourt play has been up and down this season. Part of the reason for that is the fact that center Damonte Dodd has missed six games this season. Dodd has been out the past four games with a sprained MCL and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play on Tuesday. Regardless of if Dodd can go, Ivan Bender and Michal Cekovsky will play a huge factor in this game. Cekovsky has been a huge force offensively since returning from injury last month. He’s averaging 10.0 points and has really excelled around the rim. If the Terps can get a decent amount of scoring from the frontcourt, it’ll definitely be a huge boost.