This was about as good as it got for Illinois in the first game against Ohio State. Can they pull off an upset of the Buckeyes in Columbus?
Value City Arena. The Buckeyes haven't lost here. And Illinois, coming off a crippling loss to Michigan State, may be in a bit of a must-win situation.
The Fighting Illini have watched a 3-0 start in Big Ten play evaporate. After a brutal stretch in which they lost 4 of 5 games, the Illini have traded wins and losses and have gone 3-3 in their last 6 Big Ten games. But considering how they started out the season ranked and were supposed to contend for the Big Ten title, this season is a tremendous disappointment.
Ohio State started off undefeated, rolling off to a 24-0 start before a trip to Madison. Their undefeated season came to a brutal end, as they lost 71-67 to Wisconsin. They shook off that setback and handed Michigan State a rather lopsided 71-61 defeat in Columbus. In their last game, in West Lafayette, they fell victim to E'Twaun Moore and the Purdue Boilermakers. Moore personally destroyed Ohio State for 38 of his teams 76 points.
Both teams need this game. Illinois badly needs a signature win to boost their lackluster Big Ten record. Ohio State needs this game to lay claim to a number one seed. Who wins?
It's most likely Ohio State. The Buckeyes are a much more complete team than Illinois. They rolled through their schedule to start, but hit a pair of teams that were undefeated at home in three games. The Buckeyes had their chances, but ultimately both Wisconsin and Purdue are still undefeated at home AND claiming wins over a top two Ohio State team. That's hardly what Thad Matta had in mind after his team started off 24-0, but that's just how things have worked out. Ohio State is no longer looking like a runaway favorite for the conference title: Purdue is just a game back, and Wisconsin two games back.
Ohio State has 4 players that average scoring in double figures: Jared Sullinger (18.0), William Buford (14.0), David Lighty (12.2), and Jon Diebler (11.1). Sullinger averages 9.9 rebounds per game, leading the team, and G Aaron Craft's average of 4.5 assists per game leads the Buckeyes.
Illinois has 2 players that average scoring in double figures: Demetri McCamey (14.5) and Mike Davis (11.6), and have three other players very close to that (Mike Tisdale with 9.5, Brandon Paul with 9.5, and D.J. Richardson with 9.0). Davis leads the Fighting Illini in rebounds, averaging 6.9 per game, and McCamey's 6.2 assists per game average is one of the better ones in the conference. But if McCamey can't get to the free throw line, he struggles. In the first game with Ohio State, McCamey missed his only free throw attempt and finished 2 of 11 from the field with 5 points. Against Purdue, McCamey was 2 of 2 from the line and finished 1 of 10 from the floor for 4 points, easily his worst game of the year.
If Illinois wins in Value City Arena, it will be one of the upsets of the season. Ohio State just doesn't lose here. Still, anything is possible in college basketball.