So far this season
Wow. If you had told me back in early December that Ohio State would be ranked in the Top 25, I would have been shocked. Yet here we are.
Ohio State has been a bright spot in a somewhat inconsistent and disappointing Big Ten, and they are 19-5 overall and 10-1 in the conference. The Buckeyes already boast wins against Michigan and Michigan State, two other top teams in the conference.
Most of their losses have been pretty narrow — they dropped one to Butler in overtime in the non-conference — and a group that Thad Matta seemed to have trouble motivating last year is now the cream of the crop in the conference. Keita Bates-Diop is making his case for Big Ten Player of the Year, and the team is on a roll. You probably already know this if you’ve watched an ounce of basketball this year, though.
Save that heartbreaking buzzer-beater from Tony Carr and Penn State, and Ohio State would join Purdue as the only undefeated team in conference play. Still, they are currently ranked No. 17 in the nation.
What’s most impressive? They’ve already surpassed their win total from last season by two.
Key losses and additions
Ohio State lost two studs from the 2016-17 squad. Marc Loving, a 6-foot-8 forward, graduated. He played the most minutes (33) of anyone on the team last year and was second to only Jae’Sean Tate in scoring at 12.3 points per game.
JaQuan Lyle was the other big name to leave Columbus, but the junior forward is currently at New Mexico; he transferred. He probably wishes he would’ve contributed big to this current Buckeye squad. Lyle was third on the team in scoring and averaged over five assists per game. Holtmann probably wishes he had stayed at Ohio State, too.
Despite being a first-year head coach, Holtmann was able to pull together a very good recruiting class. Kaleb Wesson, a four-star power forward/center, is averaging double-digits in scoring. He also nabbed Andrew Dakich from Michigan and another transfer guard from Air Force, Daniel Hummer, who are sitting out this season. Kyle Young and Musa Jallow were also both pretty solid recruits, although they’ve been less successful on the court this year than Wesson.
This one is a no-brainer. Underwood has to watch out for Keita Bates-Diop. Bates-Diop is having an incredible year so far, averaging nearly 20 points and nine rebounds. Considering he’s long and athletic — he has a 6-foot-7 frame — he’ll be a matchup nightmare. And he’s just having probably the best season of any player in the Big Ten.
What really should worry Illinois here are his rebounding numbers. He can score all he wants, as long as the Illini are able to lock down on other scorers like Tate and Wesson, which will admittedly be tasks in and of themselves. The way Illinois gave up offensive boards to Juwan Morgan of Indiana almost lost them a ninth consecutive Big Ten game. If he can give the Ohio State offense second chances, it’s going to be a long afternoon for the Fighting Illini.
Someone really wise once told me, “Three in a row...that’s a winning streak!” He was right, but I don’t think Illinois is going to get there on Sunday.
Ohio State is simply bigger and better, no doubt about that. Trent Frazier will likely have a good game, and Leron Black will be as reliable as ever, but the combination of center Micah Potter, Bates-Diop, Tate and Wesson are just going to be too much for Illinois to handle defensively. Unless Alstork, Smith and Kipper come out and have great games, I don’t see this one being very close.
Ohio State 88, Illinois 77