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Game Preview: Illinois @ #20 Ohio State

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After a disappointing overtime loss to Michigan, the Illini are looking to bounce back against the No. 20 Ohio State Buckeyes.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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Saturday, January 3, 2015
2:39 pm CT

Illinois (10-4, 0-1) @ #20 Ohio State (11-3, 0-1)
Location: Value City Arena | Columbus, OH
Television/Stream: ESPN2 | WatchESPN
Opposing SB Nation SiteLand-Grant Holy Land

RPI Ranking: Illinois: 61 | Ohio State: 85
KenPom Ranking: Illinois: 48 | Ohio State: 23
Odds: Ohio State (-8.5) | Over/Under: N/A

Ohio State

The relationship between Thad Matta and John Groce has been well documented over the years. From Butler, to Xavier, to Ohio State--the duo stuck together and quickly built a national power in Columbus. Today, Groce returns to Value City Arena as he looks to steal a game against his former mentor.

Rayvonte Rice and Illinois are looking to bounce back in a big way after a disappointing overtime loss to Michigan in their Big Ten opener. The same can also be said for Ohio State. After finishing the non-conference portion of the schedule with a record of 11-2, Thad Matta's squad dropped their opener against Iowa. One of Ohio State's main criticisms has been their weak schedule to date, but they boast a very talented team. Led by star freshman guard D'Angelo Russell, the Buckeye's backcourt combines for 35.4 points and 14.9 assists per game.

Illinois leads the all-time series 104-73, but the Buckeyes have won the last three contests; this includes a 62-55 victory in Columbus and a 48-39 victory in Champaign during the 2013-14 season.

Probable Starters:

Illinois Fighting Illini:

  1. Ahmad Starks (7.5PPG, 1.6RPG, 2.9APG)
  2. Kendrick Nunn (8.6PPG, 2.6RPG, 1.8APG)
  3. Rayvonte Rice (17.0PPG, 6.9RPG, 2.1APG)
  4. Malcolm Hill (13.4PPG, 5.8RPG, 1.2APG)
  5. Nnanna Egwu (7.8PPG, 5.4RPG, 0.9APG)

Ohio State Buckeyes:

  1. Shannon Scott (7.8PPG, 3.2RPG, 7.6APG)
  2. D'Angelo Russell (17.4PPG, 4.6RPG, 5.2APG)
  3. Sam Thompson (10.2PPG, 4.1RPG, 2.1APG)
  4. Marc Loving (12.2PPG, 3.3RPG, 0.9APG)
  5. Amir Williams (8.4PPG, 5.7RPG, 0.2APG)

Keys to the Game:

1. Forget about Michigan

The overtime loss to Michigan happened. It's in the past and there's nothing that the Illinois players and coaches can do about it now. Well, except win. A victory on Saturday could go a long way in alleviating the concerns of fans.

The Illini need to refocus because they'll once again be facing a tough crowd as the Buckeyes are set to honor the Football team after their College Football Playoff Semi-Final victory over Alabama. The team responded well to Michigan's crowd on Tuesday--hopefully they do the same against Ohio State.

2. Contain D'Angelo Russell

Buckeye freshman D'Angelo Russell is fantastic. The 6'5 guard possess tremendous ball skills and he's very poised on the offensive end. He primarily fills more of a shooting guard role, but Ohio State often puts the ball in hands because he can create shots while running the pick-and-roll. Look for Kendrick Nunn to handle this defensive assignment while Rayvonte Rice defends Sam Thompson.

Here's an interesting stat on Russell:

  • D'Angelo Russell vs "high-major" teams (4 games): 11.75PPG on 28% shooting.
  • D'Angelo Russell vs other teams (10 games): 19.6PPG on 53% shooting.

3. Attack, Attack, Attack

Illinois is shooting 77.5% from the line, that's 5th best in the nation. Getting there, however, is a different story. Free throws only comprise 19.8% of the team's total points and their free throw rate of 32.5 is 270th in the country. It seems like Jaylon Tate and Rayvonte Rice are the only players looking to drive to the basket and draw contact--that needs to change.

Prediction:

I expect Illinois to come out strong on both ends of the court in the first half as they take a close game into the break. However, successfully defending the likes of D'Angelo Russell, Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, and Amir Williams is a tall task for this Illini team. I think the Buckeyes will eventually pull away at the end of a hard-fought game.

#20 Ohio State 73, Illinois 62

*****

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