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Big Ten Tournament Finals Preview: Illinois vs Ohio State

Preview all of Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament action.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

After a week of tightly contested games, exciting finishes, and a handful of surprising results, we’ve reached the final day of the 2021 Big Ten Tournament. Illinois and Ohio State will close things out in the championship game on Sunday afternoon. It figures to be an exciting matchup and somebody will get a trophy later when the clock expires.

Let’s take a look at the schedule.

Title Game:

-No. 2 Illinois Fighting Illini vs. No 5 Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Time/TV: 3:30PM ET (CBS)
  • KenPom Spread: Illinois by 4

Illinois and Ohio State met twice during the regular season and both games were highly entertaining. The Buckeyes pulled off the upset in Champaign in the first meeting and the Illini beat Ohio State in the rematch last weekend. Sunday’s meeting will be the rubber match to determine who has the upper hand this season.

From a statistical and resume perspective, the two teams are pretty similar. In fact, Illinois and Ohio State are just four spots apart on KenPom (Illinois is third and Ohio State is seventh), one win apart in overall win totals, and pretty similar in quality wins. Both also had some incredible win streaks during league play. Ohio State won seven straight in January and February and Illinois has won 13 of its last 14 games. Each is also in serious consideration for a one seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

The styles of play, however, differ substantially. While Ohio State focuses on backcourt play and scoring from outside the arc, Illinois has a dynamic big man in Kofi Cockburn and does most of its damage through play in the lane and down low. Illinois also has a substantially better defense, ranking nearly 70 spots higher than Ohio State’s unit. That clash of styles should make for an entertaining chess match in Sunday’s meeting.

The players to watch are pretty easy to pick out. For Illinois, it’s Ayo Dosunmu and Cockburn. The two are All-American level contributors and ranked among KenPom’s top six players nationally. Dosunmu is dynamite in transition and in the lane and Cockburn is a physical force down low. Andre Curbelo is also a player on the rise for the Illini.

On the other side, keep an eye on EJ Liddell and Duane Washington. Liddell has emerged into a solid two-way player who can stretch his game to outside the arc. Washington is a bit inconsistent, but is probably one of the league’s best outside scorers when he’s feeling it. Notably, Washington had 24 points in the team’s victory over Michigan on Saturday.

Overall, expect it to be a tight and competitive game. Both of these teams have tough chins and will respond when they get down. Illinois seems to have the advantage coming into the matchup, but Ohio State has certainly shown it can overcome the odds before. So, buckle up and get ready for an instant classic on Sunday.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Illinois