The Fighting Illini return to the State Farm Center on Thursday night to do battle with the Ohio State Buckeyes. These two teams met back in Columbus at the start of conference play, and Illinois gave Ohio State a run for its money before falling 75-73 on the road. Now back at the State Farm Center, the Fighting Illini will have a chance at redemption when they play host to the visiting Buckeyes. Fresh off its second conference win over Minnesota, Illinois may have what it takes to get a very good home win on Thursday night.
Malcolm Hill will need to continue to be the X-factor for this Illinois team if it wants to hand Ohio State a loss. The junior was incredible the other night against Minnesota, scoring 28 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. It's becoming clear that Illinois needs him to play his best night-in and night-out if wants to find success in Big Ten play. Hill struggled last time out against Ohio State; he went just 4 of 13 from the floor to score 14 points. If the junior can find it in him to have another 20+ point game, Illinois might just have what it takes.
Marc Loving was huge for Ohio State last time these two teams met. He dropped 27 points and pulled down 7 boards to carry the Buckeyes past the Illini. Without a dominant performance from him, Illinois would've likely pulled off the upset on the road. When these two teams meet again on Thursday night, Illinois will have to do a number on him in order to have a chance. Also important will be stopping Keta Bates-Diop. He had 22 points and 8 rebounds in Ohio State's most recent victory over Penn State.
The Illini certainly have it in them to take down the Buckeyes, but they'll have to avoid some mistakes that they made last time out. For one, the Buckeyes got to the line way too frequently when these two teams met in Columbus. Knocking down 28 free throws compared to Illinois' 9, the Buckeyes got a huge scoring advantage due to the Illini committing 23 fouls. That can't happen again. The Illini need to be smart in playing good defense without fouling. Force the Buckeyes to have to beat you from the floor, not from the free throw line.
Finally, if you're Illinois, you have to get your top guys going. Guys like Kendrick Nunn and Michael Finke have proven pivotal in determining whether or not Illinois gets the win. Last time out against Minnesota, Michael Finke had a career-high 16 rebounds to go along with 9 points. Kendrick Nunn had 13 points, 3 assists, and 5 rebounds. Those two, along with Malcolm Hill, will need to be firing on all cylinders if Illinois wants to take down Ohio State on Thursday night. It should be a great game between these two, and if you're Illinois, you have revenge on your mind.