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Manning the Post

The Maryland game might not, when it’s all said & done, prove to be a Battle of the Bigs.

Maybe Eric Ayala will go off from three. Maybe every Illini perimeter player will do the same. But it feels like this game should be decided down low, and that Kofi Cockburn should be The Decider.

Maryland has a legendary Big at the helm. Maryland has an excellent Big at the 4 spot.

Qudus Wahab launches a baby hook versus Brown. (Maryland Athletics)

But the guys who’ll defend Kofi Cockburn are not Donta Scott. It would be a waste of fouls to put the Terps’ 6’8″ scorer on Illinois’s 7’0″ double-doubler.

Interim coach Danny Manning says 6’9″ freshman JuJu Reese will participate in the Kofi defense. And, you know, good luck to him.

Julian Reese (Maryland Athletics)

If he’s successful, that means Manning wasn’t just coachspeaking about all his players getting better. (Manning also addressed coachspeaking in his pre-game availablity.)

Mostly, it’ll be Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab defending the #B1G’s pre-season POTY. That Wahab left Patrick Ewing to play for Danny Manning says something about Wahab’s personality: Manning is nicer than Ewing. Wahab has probably never heard of Leo Durocher.

If the Terrapins weren’t arguably awful, the talking point wouldn’t be Mark Turgeon’s negotiated departure. Democrats of Prince George’s & Anne Arundel Counties might not even care that Darryl Morsell chose to live in Em-Efffing Wisconsin rather than continue to toil on their behalf.

The talking point would be balanced scoring.

It’s hard to defend when all five guys can burn you. Maryland’s starters average double-figures. 6’8″ wing Hakim Hart barely makes the cut-off with 9.5/game, but he’s the Turtle to Fear.

A disruptive defender with a 2:1 ATO, he’s also a 52% shooter. His only problem in Champaign will be Da’Monte Williams, until it’s Jacob Grandison.

It’s an eight-man rotation, and six of them are there to put a ball through a hoop. Only Xavier Green and Ian Martinez play for primarily defensive purposes.

Grad-transfer Green made plain that he doesn’t expect anyone to guard Kofi one-on-one, and that’s the correct response. Kofi becomes vulnerable when Smalls join Bigs in defending him. Adding active hands, especially below the waist, causes problems for Kofi.

Kofi’s spin move (from elbow to block) at The Barn was intriguing to watch because it was sui generis.

It didn’t work.

Kofi has not reached that rare level of sophistication where the big man sees the short corner while his back is turned. Ideally, he’ll return for Year 4 to figure that out. On Tuesday, he got his pocket picked.

That’s the video clip that Xavier Green is visualizing when he talks about helping against Kofi.

Illini fans can satisfy their worrying habit by contemplating how these 8-and-5 Terps got to 8-and-5: They lost by only five points at Iowa, and Iowa is pretty good-ish, yes?

Maryland lost to George Mason by only five points, and George Mason almost beat James Madison in its subsequent contest!

Maryland lost to Louisville, lost to Virginia Tech, lost to Northwestern. Then they beat #20 Florida. Double you, tee eff?

Maryland beat Hofstra by 2, and HOFSTRA BEAT ARKANSAS!

They seem small, but that doesn’t mean they lost.

Yes, the all-caps is necessary because Illinois couldn’t even get to the Arkansas game in Kansas City.

Sure, a lot has changed since then. Coleman Hawkins has a new role. Andre Curbelo decided to get well instead of faking it. Alfonso Plummer bloomed.

Until Illinois can beat Maryland consistently, you’ll need to regard this as a trap game. The Illini should win, but Maryland has shown flashes kinda thing. Terps assistant coach Matt Brady has the Illini scout, and he’s one of those intellectual analysts that can rape a team of all its advantages just by explaining details. Loyola did it, so can they.

But because Darryl Morsell left for pastures, you’ll want to know whether Fatts Russell (whose name is actually “Daron”) can tandem with Eric Ayala to impose the kind of defensive pervasiveness that stops otherwise capable shooters, dribblers, passers & penetrators from enjoying Mr. Naismith’s winter exercise.

There’s no reason to believe he can. There’s less reason to believe that Maryland will win on Thursday. If they do, you can make spring break plans.

Brad Underwood already lost to a terrible Danny Manning team in his Illini career. If you think he’s forgotten about that, thanks for checking out IlliniReport dot info. I’ll assume this is your first time here.