I started out this morning with a bit of a shock. I was compiling my pre-game thoughts and going over some statistics when I came across Robert's tweet from yesterday which was basically a snapshot from the Illinois media guide of the results of the last 11 games vs Maryland. 2-9 dating back to 2016. One win in 2019 in Madison Square Garden (Tevian!) and one win in 2022:
While I knew we had struggled against Maryland over the last few seasons, I'm not sure I fully grasped the degree of futility until Robert's tweet slapped me across the face. I think it's maybe because I was in attendance the last time we beat Maryland - that win from 2022 on the night Ayo Dosunmu had his banner raised to the rafters of the SFC. Kofi dunked all over the Terps and maybe that memory tricked my brain into thinking those demons had been exorcised.
Or more likely, I was of the mindset that this Illini team was simply a different collection of dudes. This group who has shrugged off every bit of adversity thrown at them so far this season? I figured they would be up to the challenge of this rather pedestrian Maryland team coming into the SFC - even following the emotionally and physically draining win against Michigan State on Thursday.
Wrong on all accounts.
The futility persisted this afternoon, and I remain irritatingly befuddled as to the randomness of it all. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of basketball reasons for why we got whipped this afternoon - and we will most certainly get to those - but this whole Maryland deal just doesn't make any sense to me.
After today's 76-67 loss, Brad Underwood's record against Maryland sits at an ugly 2-7. Two wins in six plus seasons. Even since the 2019-2020 season - which I mark as the "rebirth" season of Illini basketball - he is just 1-6. Frame it like this: we would have two additional regular season Big Ten title banners hanging in the SFC if not for home losses to Maryland in 2020 and 2021. By comparison, here is Underwood's record against the other Big Ten schools from the 2019-20 season through today:
Michigan State: 4-3
Ohio State: 3-4
Penn State: 4-3
A .720 winning percentage against the rest of the Big Ten since 2019-2020 and just one win against Maryland. It's simple random futility. There is no rational explanation.
The Terps have been the definition of a middling program over that stretch. They did tie for first in 2019-2020, but have since finished 8th, 10th, and 5th in conference, and they came in today at 2-3 in the league. I don't think you can call it a scheme thing either - where one coach just has the other's number. Maryland has spread this dominance out over two different coaches. And sure, they've had some solid players over the years but it's not like they have been out-talenting teams in recent history. We've sent plenty of other future NBA players home with losses over those aforementioned 59 wins.
The only constant I can find? Donta Scott. He is the lone Maryland player to have played in every game against Illinois since 2020. So yeah, he's 6-1 against us over his career. Anyone able to make a Donta Scott voodoo doll before February 17?
Today was a perfect encapsulation of all the losses to Maryland of recent vintage. Everything was going swimmingly - until it wasn't. Threes were falling, the defense was doing its thing and we jumped out to a 20-11 lead midway through the first half. Maryland head coach Kevin Willard called a time out and the State Farm Center was happily grooving in anticipation of a stress free Sunday afternoon blowout.
Then Donta Scott (there's that man again) hit a three coming out of the timeout, and the Terps outscored us 65-47 the rest of the way. What the what?
The second best team in college basketball at defending two point shots (41% coming into the game) allowed Maryland to shoot 54% on twos. They scored 52 of their 76 points in the paint. We simply had no answer for the simplest of college basketball offensive sets - the high ball screen. Jahmir Young was repeatedly able to get Coleman Hawkins switched onto him - which affected his efficiency (he shot 11-24 from the floor) - but allowed Julian Reese (20 points/11 rebounds) to operate freely at the rim. Hawkins' foul trouble didn't help matters in that department either.
On the other end of the floor, the 7th ranked offense (per KenPom) in college basketball) shot an almost incomprehensible 9-40 (22%) from the floor in the second half. That included 1-14 from three, but after the game Underwood was much more distraught over the 14 missed layups. Many of those layups were contested by Maryland's athleticism, but guys like Marcus Domask (7-15 on 2PA) and Quincy Guerrier (1-6 on 2PA) have shown the ability to convert at the rim in traffic all season before today. Both of them came into today shooting near the 60% clip on two point attempts.
So did Maryland do anything special today? Nope. A high ball screen offense and some above average rim protection and yet they fully controlled the last 30 minutes of the game. So what then? Honestly, I got nothing. I guess I just have to accept that Maryland owning us is our lot in life right now - or at least until Donta Scott moves on.
+ I'm sure there will be plenty of discussion about the depth moving forward. The rotation was pretty tight before the Terrence Shannon suspension, and it's obviously even tighter now. Basically, Underwood is rolling with 6 and a half guys. The starters, Justin Harmon, and Dain Dainja on the offensive end of the floor. Underwood said after the game today that Dainja's defense has to get better for him to get more minutes. As for the freshmen? Unlikely in my opinion. Dravyn Gibbs-Lawhorn has been shaky at best and Amani Hansberry and Nico Moretti have both had their development stunted by injuries. I'm sure Underwood would like to have the luxury of a deeper bench, but it seems apparent he doesn't have the trust to match that desire. He was also having none of the idea that fatigue might be a factor now or in the future. So unless TSJ gets a legal reprieve, I think what you've seen over these last four conference games is likely what you're going to get moving forward. Here's hoping the injury gods are kind to us for the next two months.
+ I'm not concerned so much about the endurance factor with Marcus Domask as I am his efficiency. He was the absolute perfect change of pace complement to Shannon, but now that he's perched at the top of every team's scouting report I'm left to wonder how his effectiveness will hold up when he's asked to shoulder so much of the offensive workload.
+ Unfortunately, this latest installment of Fear The Turtle was the kind of loss you just can't afford when trying to put together a top 12 (3 seed line cut off) tournament resume. As such, I think winning four of the next five (@Michigan, Rutgers, @Northwestern, Indiana, @Ohio State) is almost essential to keep that hope alive.