Illinois (21-10) at (14) Ohio State (22-7)|
Sunday, March 10, 12:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Value City Arena (18,809) -- Columbus, Ohio.
Television: ESPN. Home Record: Illinois 12-4, Ohio St. 15-2. Away Record:
Illinois 5-5, Ohio St. 5-5. Neutral Record: Illinois 4-1, Ohio St. 2-0.
Conference Record: Illinois 8-9, Ohio St. 12-5. Series Record: Illinois leads,
GAME NOTES: The 14th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes will attempt to stake a claim
to a portion of the Big Ten regular season title, as they close out the
regular season at home on Sunday against the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Thad Matta's Buckeyes are in the mix around the top of the league standings,
sitting one game behind Indiana (13-4 Big Ten) and tied with both Michigan and
Michigan State in the league standings at 12-5. For Ohio State to share in the
conference crown, the Wolverines would have to top the Hoosiers in a showdown
later on in the day. The Buckeyes have certainly done their part to stay in
the hunt with wins in each of the last four games, including a huge 67-58 win
at Indiana last time out.
John Groce's Illini have jumped in and out of the top-25 this season, but are
currently not among the group. Inconsistent play in-conference is the main
culprit, with Illinois sitting a game under .500 at 8-9, despite a solid 21-10
overall record. The Illini have lost two of their last three games entering
this regular-season finale, including a 63-55 setback at Iowa last Tuesday.
Illinois holds a 104-70 advantage in the all-time series with Ohio State and
is seeking the regular-season sweep after recording a 74-55 rout of the
Buckeyes in Champaign on Jan. 5.
The Illini suffered through one of their worst offensive performances of the
season against the Hawkeyes last time out, shooting an ugly 28.6 percent from
the floor, with a mere 18 field goals in the game total and managing a mere 55
points (third lowest output of the season). Brandon Paul led the team in
defeat with 18 points. D.J. Richardson finished with 13, but the remainder of
the team managed a combined 24 points in the setback.
While Illinois is certainly no offensive juggernaut, the offensive numbers
have been a bit better on the season overall. The Illini come into the finale
averaging 70.3 ppg on a modest .423 shooting. Paul hasn't shot the ball
particularly well this season (.404), but is still among the league leaders in
scoring at 16.2 ppg (fifth in the Big Ten). Richardson is next in line at 12.8
ppg, with yet another guard, Tracy Abrams, rounding out the top offensive
threats on the team with his 10.6 ppg.
Ohio State doesn't put up huge scoring totals either, as the Buckeyes are
averaging 70.2 ppg, on .453 shooting. Where the team has excelled is on the
defensive end, where foes are averaging just 58.8 ppg and being held under 40
percent shooting (.396). While the Buckeyes are not explosive as a team, they
do boast of the conference's top scorer in junior Deshaun Thomas. The 6-foot-7
forward is averaging a conference-best 19.8 ppg and also leads the team in
rebounding with 6.2 rpg. Lenzelle Smith Jr. is the only other double-figure
scorer on the roster at 10.1 ppg. However, point guard Aaron Craft (9.6 ppg)
isn't far off the mark, but is more an asset as a distributor (4.4 apg) and a
defender (team-high 57 steals). Craft is the school's all-time leader in
In the win over Indiana, it was Thomas again that led the way offensively,
leading all scorers with 18 points. Craft poured in 15 points in support,
while recording four steals. With the win, Ohio State has now knocked off
three top-five foes in the same season for just the fourth time in school
The homecourt advantage will surely tip the scales in OSU's favor in this one.
The Buckeyes will take care of their own business and will need to wait it out
and see if it pays off later in the day.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ohio State 67, Illinois 60
03/10 10:33:31 ET