Illini Basketball Preview - Illini at Maryland

Connor Cagley, IlliniGuys Basketball Writer

January 21, 2022


#17 ILLINOIS (13-4, 6-1) at Maryland (9-9, 1-6)
Date | Time Friday, Jan. 21, 2022 | 6 p.m. CT / 7 p.m. ET
Location College Park, Md. | Xfinity Center
Television FS1 (Brandon Gaudin & Len Elmore)
Live Stream | FOX Sports App
Radio  Busey Bank Illini Sports Network | Listen | Varsity Network App | Sirius (158), XM (195), SXM App (957)

After an exciting, but disappointing, game against Purdue resulted in a double overtime loss for the Illini on Monday, Illinois will look to bounce back on the road against the Maryland Terrapins. The Terrapins have struggled with Big 10 play, going one and six in their first seven games with their only win being in a double overtime game against Northwestern.

That being said, Maryland still has a talented roster which was fairly evident in their first matchup against Illinois in Champaign. And, while Maryland didn’t win either game, they played close against both Iowa and Wisconsin. With the thumping Maryland took in Ann Arbor on Tuesday night, expect them to bring some energy to their Friday night home game.

As a former ACC team, the Maryland rivalry isn't as long-lasting as those of traditional B1G rivals. Maryland has been tough on the Illini with a 12-7 lead overall and a 5-1 advantage at College Park. If Illinois were to defeat Maryland tonight, it would be the first Illini victory at Maryland since November 29, 2011. The Illini are 0-3 at College Park since Maryland entered the B1G.

Also at risk on Friday night is Illinois' 6 B1G road game winning streak. This is the longest road winning streak since the 13 consecutive conference road victory streak in 2004 (5) and 2005 (7) seasons. Even after the Purdue loss, the Illini are 20-2 in their last 22 games against B1G opponents.

Illinois will be favored, but anything can happen on the road. Underwood will have his team ready, as a two-loss week would set the Illini back in the conference standings.

Two Questions:

Question #1 - Word is Kofi Cockburn is doubtful to play, if so what's next at the 5?

Kofi Cockburn courtesy Chicago Tribune

Late Thursday night, word was that it is doubtful that Kofi Cockburn will play at Maryland possibly due to a concussion. If this ends up being accurate, what approach will the Illini use at the center position Friday night?

During Monday’s loss, Kofi Cockburn had arguably his worst game since his freshman season. He recorded just ten points and five rebounds on an atrocious three for nine shooting from the field. Some of that can be attributed to him being out of rhythm and dealing with foul trouble, but it was also evident that he was flustered and never seemed to fall in line with the pace of the game.

If a doubtful Cockburn doesn't play, my expectation is that Omar Payne will start at the center position for the Illini. Payne has played well in a couple of short spurts this season, most recently to close out the game at Nebraska. Omar can be used as a lob threat in the pick and roll, particularly when Curbelo is in the game because of Curbelo's knack for throwing the lob pass. But we've not seen them on the floor together much this year to know what this will look like. Welcome to uncharted territory, Illini fans.

We do know foul trouble has plagued Payne throughout his collegiate career. If that happens again tonight, Illinois will be looking at Coleman Hawkins or Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk to log minutes at the 5. Underwood could choose to use Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk at the 5 with Coleman Hawkins at the 4. In any event, when Payne is out of the game, Hawkins and/or Bosmans-Verdonk will have to hold their own on the inside and play like a bonafide B1G big men in the paint.

With Coleman Hawkins in the game, Underwood could play a five out offense because of Hawkins ball handling and shooting ability. When Bosmans-Verdonk is in the game, he provides more muscle, and he can come up high to get the ball. BBV is not a true perimeter player, so the Illini won't use the five out with him in the game, though he is capable of passing out of the post to the open man.

Fortunately, Illinois was able to get a bounce back game from Andre Curbelo against Purdue. His offensive spark off the bench offset some of the impact of Cockburn’s absence from the court. The twenty solid minutes of defensive effort from Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk at the center position didn’t hurt anything either.

Coming off of two months of inactivity, it's a lot to expect Curbelo to play another 25 minutes in his second game back from such an extended layoff. If anyone can, it's Curbelo but expectations need to be tempered. Of course, the best solution would be for Kofi to play against Maryland - though with a concussion, we've learned that it can take a while to be able to play again.

Can the Illini defenders stop Dante Scott?

Coleman Hawkins courtesy Illinois athletics

In the early season Illinois/Maryland matchup, the player that stood out most for Maryland was Dante Scott. The 6’8” power forward seems to play his best ball against the Illini and has been heating up recently. If Maryland is able to win this game, Scott will be a big part of it. It will be in the Illini’s best interest to slow him down.

Illinois will most likely throw at least three bodies at him – Da’Monte Williams, Jacob Grandison, and Coleman Hawkins. Hawkins will have a slight height advantage over him at 6’10”, but Scott, at 235 pounds, will have a weight advantage over all of the Illini defenders. Keeping Scott off the glass will be key in this matchup.

Given his track record against the Illini, it will be optimal to stay on him on the perimeter to prevent him from getting wide open shots that will boost his confidence.

Prediction: Illinois 64 – Maryland 62

Maryland is expected to come out with some energy at home, but Illinois knows what it will take to stay atop the Big 10 title race. Cockburn not playing is crucial, and with the addition of Curbelo back into the lineup, Illinois stands a better chance of bouncing back on the road. What he adds in terms of shot creation should prevent slumps and bolster the second units which have had a few dry spells. We might even see Underwood try to speed up the pace with a guard heavy lineup, but they have to be shooting well to do so.




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