CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois will be without some of its key role players Thursday against Ohio State.
Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk is battling a concussion and RJ Melendez was rushed into an emergency appendicitis surgery this week — both will be out.
Melendez’s absence will be especially felt, as the freshman has seen an uptick in both minutes and production as of late off the bench. Melendez has logged at least 10 minutes in six games this season, and the Illini are 4-2 in those contests.
As for who will be playing, the Illini can count on 21 points and 11 rebounds from Kofi Cockburn — in fact, he’s the only player in the country averaging 20 and 10, and the only player to rank in the top ten in both points and rebounds.
But beyond that, the Illini will need some consistency from deep to top the Buckeyes.
The last four games have seen the Illini struggle from three-point range, shooting just over 30%.
Jacob Grandison, Alfonso Plummer and Trent Frazier all rank in the top-15 in the conference in made threes and three-point percentage, so they can clearly light it up from deep. While we have seen Grandison (six threes against Michigan State), Plummer (five threes against Northwestern) and Frazier (three threes against Rutgers) get hot as of late, the Illini have not had all three players make multiple threes since Feb. 5 against Indiana.
The Illini made eight threes against Michigan State on Saturday, but every player not named Jacob Grandison was a combined 2-of-12.
Illinois opened the game against Rutgers 0-of-13 from three and missed 10 threes in the second half of the Northwestern game earlier this month.
Plummer, the sharp shooter, leads the Big Ten in made threes, but has not made one from distance in his last two games. Frazier is second in program history in threes made but has had his share of cold streaks in games this season.
Bottom line is the Illini offense hums when all three players are sinking treys. In games that all three players have made a three, the Illini are 12-4. Not only that, the Illini’s points per game this season sits around 76. But when all three players make multiple threes, the Illini jump to an average of 84 points.
Not to mention, the Illini’s offensive output decreases massively when one of these three don’t sink a three. In the seven games where that has happened, the Illini have averaged to score just 67 points.
Ohio State has been susceptible to the three at times, allowing 32% of threes to fall this season. And while all eyes will be on the battle between Player of the Year contenders Kofi Cockburn and EJ Liddell, the Illini will need to separate themselves from the Buckeyes via the three toward a ranked win.