Illinois (16-11) at (8) Ohio State (22-5)
Tuesday February 21st, 7:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Value City Arena (18,809) -- Columbus, Ohio. Television: ESPN. Home Record: UI 12-3, OSU 17-1. Away Record: UI 2-6, OSU 5-4. Neutral Record: UI 2-2, OSU 0-0. Conference Record: UI 5-9, OSU 10-4. Series Record: Illinois leads, 103-69.
GAME NOTES: The Illinois Fighting Illini will begin their difficult end to the season tonight with a visit to Value City Arena to battle the eighth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in Big Ten Conference action.
Illinois improved its series record versus the Buckeyes to 103-69 on January 10th with a 79-74 victory over Ohio State at Assembly Hall. Brandon Paul had the third-best scoring performance in Illinois basketball history in the contest as he poured in 43 points after he drained seemingly impossible shots with regularity for 40-straight minutes.
Since the big win over the Buckeyes, Illinois has been struggling, going 1-8. Strangely enough, the Fighting Illini's only win during that span came against the Big Ten Conference's leading Michigan State Spartans. Head coach Bruce Weber's squad saw its overall record drop to 16-11 on Saturday after an 80-57 setback courtesy of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The fifth straight loss for Illinois was caused by a 36-4 run by Nebraska which spanned two halves. With the team's recent collapse, Weber's future with the team is in jeopardy despite a great deal of success during his tenure with the program. The Fighting Illini have to face two ranked opponents in their following three games to close the season.
Illinois will need its three-headed monster of Paul, Meyers Leonard, and D.J. Richardson to deliver its best collective performance of the season. The Illini's leading scorer Paul's 43 point night against Ohio State seems like a distant memory after he went 1-of-7 from the floor to score just two points against Nebraska on Saturday. Richardson and Leonard both average over 12 ppg. Leonard also has established himself as one of the top centers in the nation with eight boards and 2.0 blocks per contest as well. The Fighting Illini has shown to have the talent, but they well need to pull it all together in a hurry as their season slips away.
Thad Matta's team is trailing by one game in the Big Ten standings as it is 10-4 in league action after losing 56-51 to nationally ranked Michigan on Saturday, which tied them for second in the league with the Wolverines. The setback made Ohio State 22-5 overall. After only being held under 40 percent shooting once this season, the Buckeyes were held under 40 percent for the second time in three games on Saturday (38.8) by Michigan. The only unranked team to upset the Buckeyes is still the Fighting Illini. The Buckeyes have not lost consecutive games yet this season.
All-American Jared Sullinger leads the charge for Ohio State with averages of 17.5 ppg and 9.2 rpg. The star sophomore has been excellent all season as he is third in the conference in scoring (18.5) and second in rebounding (9.2) in league games. Sullinger has recorded 11 double-doubles this season. William Buford and Deshaun Thomas are both quality players, as they each have scoring averages near 15 ppg. Thomas led the way with 25 points in the loss to Michigan on Saturday. Aaron Craft leads the Buckeyes in both assists (4.6) and steals (2.3).
The Buckeyes are going to be out for revenge and to end their own slump while Illinois fights for its postseason life. The Fighting Illini seem to be stuck in quick sand, as the more they try to move, the deeper they seem to sink. Winning out would absolutely put the once ranked Fighting Illini back in contention for a slot in the Big Dance, but it is highly unlikely they will be able to fix their glaring issues with the rock solid Ohio State rotation coming at them.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ohio State 76, Illinois 66
02/21 10:42:06 ET