The bright lights. The Big Apple. Madison Square Garden.
In what feels like ages ago, the Fighting Illini would be relishing the opportunity for a national spotlight against a team like Maryland. Looking for a big win.
Well, don't count on it this time.
Maryland has as much talent on the front line as any in the Big Ten. Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith are the kinds of mismatches Illinois craves for in the low post.
The 6-foot-10, 240-pound Fernando might just have the most NBA potential of any big man in the conference.
Averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds per game, Fernando is a player Illinois will struggle to guard all game. They just don't have anyone with the rebounding acumen to stay with him. The best hope is to rotate Samba Kane in more. The 7-foot freshman has had a effective, albeit limited, effect on Illinois' defensive effort. It would be wise to give him more playing time in order to counteract Fernando's game.
That just leaves defending Jalen Smith, the talented 6-foot-10 freshman who is averaging 11 points and 6 rebounds per game — a perfect opportunity for Giorgi to showcase his effort and skills against another formidable freshman. Also, using Aaron Jordan and Da’Monte to provide effort and rebounding ability would be wise.
I haven't even discussed the giant elephant in the room. You know, the best player on the team for Maryland, Anthony Cowan, Jr. The guy is averaging almost 18 points per game, and does this to his opponents on a regular basis:
That Illinois has no real answer for any of these players is disconcerting enough.
Which is why you fix what's broken. If you continue to give minutes to Kipper Nichols, Andres Feliz and ADLR, you're going to lose big.
Give the freshmen some meaningful minutes. I'm not advocating this freshman class gets 40 minutes a game. However, it's past time to start phasing out the veterans who are providing little, and start seeing what these youngsters can do. Maybe, just maybe, they might surprise you. Or we could continue to lose, like we have been anyways.
At least you'll lose knowing you tried everything.
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