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A historic glance at Illinois vs. Maryland

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Illinois and Maryland square off at the site of the 2018 Big Ten Tournament.

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NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Maryland Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Does it seem random that the Illinois Fighting Illini and Maryland Terrapins are playing a regular season Big Ten game at Madison Square Garden? Yes.

Is it still exciting for the players, coaches and fans of those teams leading up to a game at the world’s most famous arena on a Saturday in January? Definitely. There are still plenty of tickets of available for a day that’s been dubbed Big Ten Super Saturday.

Big Ten Super Saturday is a Big Ten doubleheader of events at MSG, which includes

A. Illinois vs. Maryland Men’s Hoops at noon local time

AND

B. Michigan vs Penn State Hockey at 7 p.m. local time.

1. Illinois vs. Maryland all-time record

For two teams with long, storied traditions, Illinois and Maryland have only played 14 times over the years. Maryland has nine wins to Illinois’ five.

The first matchup ever between Illinois and Maryland occurred in the 1984 NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16. Illinois beat Maryland 72-70 in Lexington, Kentucky, that year to reach the Elite Eight. The Georgetown Hoyas would go on to defeat the Houston Cougars in the Championship game in Seattle, Washington.

2. Illinois and Maryland both lost their Big Ten Tournament opener last season at MSG

Big Ten traditionalists were unhappy with the locations of the last two Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournaments: 2017 in Washington, D.C, and 2018 in New York City.

No. 13 seed Illinois lost to No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes 96-87 last year. Kipper Nichols had a career game that early afternoon, scoring 31 points and at times looked unconscious launching three-pointers from NBA range. Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon led the Hawkeyes with 25 points.

Maryland played the following day as the No. 8 seed, falling to the No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers, 59-54. Future Atlanta Hawks first-round pick Kevin Huerter led the way with 20 points. The Terps would earn an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, falling in the opening round to Xavier.

3. The last game between Maryland and Illinois?: Remember the fallen trashcan.

It was truly a tale of two halves the last time Maryland and Illinois played against one another. Maryland jumped out to 10-0 start at State Farm Center. At halftime, the Terps held a massive lead of 45-26.

Drastic times calls for drastic measures. This was a catastrophic opening half and what followed was understatedly unusual. See these two tweets:

Brad Underwood punched a trashcan. Illinois ran its pregame routine during halftime. Illinois ended up outscoring Maryland 65-47 in the second half in what was as good of a 20 minutes of basketball we’ve seen in years, especially in the combined John Groce/Brad Underwood eras.

The Illini response to the fallen receptacle and the heartbreak one-point loss is a game that stands out in what was an incredibly frustrating, disappointing season. Potential does not directly imply results, but at that time especially, Illinois fans were completely behind Brad Underwood and his young team for how they played that night.

4. Maryland’s recent resilience

The No. 13 Maryland Terps were significant (8.5 points) underdogs when they hit the road to take on the No. 6 ranked Michigan State Spartans last Monday. There were times in that game when it appeared Maryland was going to be blown out of the building by 25+ points.

Maryland continued to fight late in the game, even though those players knew they were going to lose. 69-55 was the final score, but Maryland played a much better second half and refused to give up.

The game abruptly ended Maryland’s seven-game winning streak.

5. Bruno Fernando to continue Maryland’s rich tradition of Big Ten All-Conference selections

Maryland’s basketball program is notorious for having all-conference forwards and centers over the generations: Jordan Williams (2009-2011), Lonny Baxter (98-02), Joe Smith (93-95), Walt Williams (88-92), Derrick Lewis (84-88), Len Bias (82-86), Len Elmore (71-74) and Tom McMillen (71-74).

All of those players were First Team All-ACC selections, and once again Maryland has a likely NBA lottery pick at foward/center in sophomore Bruno Fernando. Fernando is still a bit raw offensively, but his improvement from last year (10.3 pts, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 22.4 minutes) to this year (14.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 28.7 minutes) is a big deal.

He’s clearly a defense-first, crash-the-boards type of talent — which goes counter to the more offensive strengths of Illinois’ starting big man Giorgi Bezhanishvili. This is a mismatch in favor of the Terps come Saturday.

More on that in the Maryland/Illinois scouting report tomorrow, so keep an eye out for Kyle Huisinga’s column.

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