Illinois vs. Ohio State
TV: Big Ten Network
New year, new story. That has to be the motto for Illinois (10-4, 0-1) after its embarassing Big Ten opener at Maryland. In College Park on Tuesday, the Illini just didn’t show up and lost by 25 points to the Terps. The team assisted just 9 of 21 field goals, had exactly half (48-24) as many points in the paint as Maryland, and saw some of its brightest lights go dim (Tracy Abrams: 2 points, 2 turnovers; Jalen Coleman-Lands: 4 points, 3 turnovers, 0-3 from behind the arc).
The good news for Sunday’s clash is Illinois gets to come back to State Farm Center for the first time in 3 weeks; the bad news is Ohio State (10-3, 0-0) is very good. The Bucks, who underwhelmed in 2015-16, are making good on the experience and talent on the roster this year. On top of that, Thad Matta’s group has depth. Six players are averaging double-digit scoring, and each of those six is averaging 20 minutes on the floor per game. Jae’Sean Tate and Marc Loving are all-around studs, JaQuan Lyle is an assist machine, and Trevor Thompson cleans up on the glass.
Because basketball is a simple game, the path to victory for Illinois is also easy to break down: defend well and let the offense flow from there, balancing points in the paint with perimeter shooting. For this to work, though, someone besides Malcolm Hill (bless him) has to show signs of life. This first stretch of conference games was always going to be tough for Illinois, but blowout losses make it that much tougher to endure.
My prediction: A couple days of practice on campus will benefit the Illini and allow them to show better, but I’m going with the Buckeyes to win.