In what I can only call a terrible move in regards to scheduling, Illinois has opted to play a home conference game in Chicago at the United Center. In the past, the Illini have opted for a non-conference game for the Chicago fans, although those were sparsely attended.
Now, however, Illinois has moved a game away from Champaign that brings a ranked foe to Chicago. Turns out, fans didn’t get the message about the game.
Tickets left available for the Illinois/Ohio State game at the United Center next week. Dark blue means no butts in seats: pic.twitter.com/MtUdXrn1Eb— Dan Bernstein (@yaboybernie11) November 27, 2018
I am all for setting up marquee matchups in big cities our program targets for star recruits. Illinois will play at Madison Square Garden next month to face Maryland. The visibility is good.
But one requirement, though, is for people to show up for that visibility to matter. As of this writing, that does not appear to be the case. Yet, I digress.
Illinois will face its seventh Power Five program in its first nine games and its second ranked team this season (Gonzaga). Ohio State enters this matchup at No. 19 with a 7-1 record under Head Coach Chris Holtmann.
What will Ohio State show the Illini in this matchup?
Pound It Inside, Get To The Line
It is no mystery as to what one of Illinois greatest weaknesses has been this season, and that is opponent free throw shooting. Through eight games, Ohio State has been to the line 199 times, a clip of just under 25 attempts per game. The saving grace may be the fact that Ohio State makes fewer than 75% of their attempts, but the risk is real.
Illinois fouls at an astounding rate, with just under 23 fouls per game. If Illinois keeps this rate up, that is a minimum of 16 free throw attempts just on statistics. If Ohio State makes the front end of a one-and-one, add one. When comparing the free throw shooting of both these teams, you see a lopsided advantage for Ohio State, as Illinois has been 79 for 117 (67.5%), while the Buckeyes have been 148 for 199 (74.3%).
If Illinois expects to win, sending your opponents to the free throw line as often as they do is not the recipe you want to follow. Underwood must preach to his team to stop giving up costly, unnecessary fouls.
Get Ahead Early, Stay Ahead
Ohio State, like Illinois, has not had a cupcake start to the season. With just three games against Fort Wayne, Samford and Cleveland State, the Buckeyes have seen legitimate opposition through eight games and have come out better on the other end.
To that end, Ohio State relishes in the 23rd best scoring margin, winning games by an average of 18.3 points per game. Illinois has shown the ability to go on long droughts and have been, at times, snake-bitten by the rim. This could spell disaster for Illinois if the Illini allow the Buckeyes to get ahead early, as early season numbers indicate they may not easily relinquish a lead.
Having Issues Guarding Down Low? Don’t Tell the Wessons
Forward brothers Kaleb and Andre Wesson have been a tour de force for Ohio State, with a combined 22.6 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game. Illinois has had issues throughout this season guarding anyone cutting to the rim.
It seems like most games this season have featured wide open cuts for easy layups or quick slam dunks, something the Wessons won’t shy away from. If Illinois has any shot to win, a zone defense that accounts for both of the brothers may be the key, limiting their production throughout the game.
This game would be better suited being played in Champaign. That said, the schedule is set and it is what it is. Hopefully, there will be more of the Illini faithful that make the trek as opposed to Ohio State fans. This game will come down to limiting bad fouls and protecting the rim, as Ohio State averages under eight three pointers per game.
If Illinois has any hope to turn the season around, this game could be the start. If not, it may be a cold, dark winter in Champaign.
Prediction: Ohio State 80, Illinois 60
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