What Happened Last Year:
Last time the Buckeyes and the Illini squared off, Illinois took the matchup 75-70 at home. It wasn’t a sloppy game by any means, but it felt like the only guys who could put the ball in the basket were Malcolm Hill, Tracy Abrams, and JaQuan Lyle. The three combined for almost half of the total points scored with Malcolm Hill contributing 20, Tracy Abrams adding 16, and JaQuan Lyle countering with a game-high 26. Once again, none of these three guys will be in this year’s matchup in Columbus. Last year’s game also saw an impressive rebounding performance from Leron Black, who grabbed 15 boards.
How Can Illinois Win:
Ohio State loses two of their top guys from last year, but they also bring in Kaleb Wesson, a four-star center, and Braxton Beverly, a three-star point guard. The Illini will rely on newcomers for most of their scoring production this year. If Illinois can hold Jae’Sean Tate, an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention selection last year, in check, I think they have a great shot at winning this game. It is unclear yet how big of an impact Brad Underwood will have on Illinois’ previously stagnant offense, but you have to expect if John Groce can pull out a W against Ohio State, surely Underwood can too. Albeit, both teams lose important pieces. Getting to the charity stripe 23 times and knocking down 17 of those again this year definitely wouldn’t hurt.
How Can Illinois Lose:
The Buckeyes return Jae’Sean Tate, who led the team in scoring last year and finished second in rebounds, and Keita Bates-Diop returns after missing the last 18 games with a stress fracture in his leg. Bates-Diop was also an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention selection his sophomore year. Ohio State will look to these two to produce a lot of offense this year and Bates-Diop will likely lead the team in rebounds. The pair could prove to be a difficult test for the Illini and the rest of the B1G. A strong showing from the duo could give Illinois fits.
In a battle of first-year coaches, Brad Underwood’s team will pull out the victory on the road. It will be a back and forth battle the whole game, but Illinois will have just what it takes to squeak out the win. This will be another down year for the Buckeyes, and the Illini will capitalize on that.