Illinois returns to the State Farm Center in its 2022 home opener to take on the Maryland Terrapins on Thursday night. The Illini are riding a three-game winning streak (10-3 overall) and are coming off a huge win against Minnesota on the road Tuesday.
Here’s a few things to note before you tune into the game.
The Maryland senior has been playing really well recently, putting up at least 19 points in each of the last 4 games. He’s also warmed up from deep over this stretch, shooting 46% (11/24).
Ayala is the unquestioned leader of the Terps and their results have generally followed however he has played this year. Ayala also missed this game last year with a groin injury, so he’ll be motivated to lead the team to add to its streak against the Illini.
Maryland’s Interim Coach
A month into the season Maryland’s long-time coach Mark Turgeon decided to step down after 10 years at the helm. Maryland started the season off slow and was 5-3 at the time of Turgeon’s decision, despite being ranked in the top 25 in the preseason polls.
Maryland named assistant Danny Manning — a former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick and Wake Forest head coach — as the interim coach for the remainder of the season. Maryland has been 3-2 in Manning’s stint, picking up a close victory over No. 20 Florida, but the Trees have dropped both of their Big Ten games (losses to Northwestern and Iowa).
It will be interesting to see if Manning employs the same gameplan that led Turgeon to three straight wins against the Illini or if he decides to change it up.
Illinois will be playing this game with only a one-day break after the Minnesota game. The short break will put the spotlight on the Illini’s conditioning after the COVID pause which limited the team’s ability to workout and practice.
If it’s a close game in the second half, Brad Underwood and Co. will have to dig deep to maintain the necessary intensity in the high-leverage moments.
Illinois has lost its last three matchups against the Terps, so let’s hope we turn that around on Thursday night and also stay undefeated in conference play on the season.