Illinois players Bill Cole (#30) and D.J. Richardson (#1) guard Ohio State's David Lighty (#23) during an Ohio State victory against the Illini at the Assembly Hall in the 2009-2010 season.

Fighting the Fighting Illini: Previewing the Ohio State Buckeyes, Gm. 20

After getting a must-win against Michigan State on Tuesday night, things don’t get any easier for the Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball team this afternoon when the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes take the Assembly Hall floor.

Here’s a look at Thad Matta’s loaded Buckeyes.

Ohio State Buckeyes Season at Glance

After getting voted #1 in the country earlier this week following Duke’s loss at Florida State last week, Ohio State crushed Iowa 70-48 on Wednesday.

That 22-point victory was a nice break for the undefeated Buckeyes, which had won its previous four games against Penn State, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa by a combined 15 points.

Ohio State opened up Big Ten play with an 18-point victory at Indiana on New Year’s Eve.

In non-conference play, the Buckeyes went 13-0, winning every game by double digits, with a 12-point victory against South Carolina on December 18th Ohio State’s closest game outside of the Big Ten.

Notable non-conference opponents that have fallen to Ohio State in 2010-2011 include Florida, the aforementioned Florida State and Oakland, a team that the Buckeyes beat by 29 and Illinois defeated by 11.

Record: 19-0 (6-0 in the Big Ten)

Combined Record of Teams Ohio State Has Beaten: 180-155

Best Win: at #9 Florida (November 16, 2010)

In an early season showdown of two of the nation’s top teams, Ohio State went into Gainesville and demolished the Gators in the second half, shooting the lights out of the O’Connell Center and making Florida look like a junior-varsity team.

Other Impressive Wins: at Florida State (November 30, 2010); Minnesota (January 9, 2011)

Game the Buckeyes Would Like to Have Back: None

What I’ve Seen of the Buckeyes: I caught nearly all of Ohio State’s victory at Florida, a game that convinced me that the Buckeyes were truly a national-title contender and thus going to be fine with Evan Turner off to the NBA but Jared Sullinger in Columbus. Ohio State also impressed at Indiana on New Year’s Eve, destroying IU’s zone with cutthroat outside shooting. Ohio State is my pick to win it all in April.

Buckeyes Players Familiar to Illini Fans: Even with Turner leaving a year early for the 2010 NBA Draft, the Buckeyes returned a loaded lineup on the perimeter with fifth-year senior David Lighty (6-5/220), senior Jon Diebler (6-6/205) and junior William Buford (6-5/205). All three players are assassins, with Diebler the scariest shooter from beyond the arc but Buford extremely dangerous when feeling it. Diebler killed the Illini from behind the three during two ugly regular season losses for the orange and blue last season. As for Lighty, Illinois struggled to contain his dribble penetration. Of the three Ohio State perimeter upperclassmen, Buford is the best NBA prospect and one of my favorite players to watch, even if he plays for the hated Buckeyes. Buford is second on the team in scoring with 13.7 points per game while Lighty and Diebler are right behind him at 13.0 and 11.5 ppg. Besides these three, Ohio State returns bruising senior big man Dallas Lauderdale (6-8/255), a physical presence that Illinois would struggle with even if the Buckeyes didn’t have the best big man in the country, which brings us to the elephant in the room.

Key Freshmen:Jared Sullinger (6-9/280) has more than lived up to the hype, leading the Buckeyes at 17.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. An absolute load down low, Sullinger is virtually unstoppable when he gets his behind into the other team’s big man, thus establishing low-post position and typically leading to an easy score. In simple terms, Illinois doesn’t have one player physical enough to handle Sullinger and will have to use a big-man committee.

As is always the case with Matta, his Ohio State teams simply reload year in, year out via incredible recruiting. Besides Sullinger, Ohio State boasts freshmen forward Deshaun Thomas (6-6/230) and point guard Aaron Craft (6-2/195). While Thomas can score in bunches, averaging 9.6 points in 16.2 minutes per game, Craft has been a big-time initiator for the Buckeyes. As a pass-first, pure point guard, Craft allows Ohio State to slide Sullinger over to the five and play a four-guard lineup with Diebler, Buford and Lighty. Illinois struggled big time last year with Ohio State’s four-headed monster, led by Turner, and could struggle with Craft, who is averaging a solid 6.3 points, 4.9 assists, and 2.6 rebounds in 27.7 minutes.

Key Injury: None.

Recognizable Departure: The best player in college basketball last season, Turner skipped his senior season and went #2 overall to the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2010 NBA Draft. Ohio State hasn’t missed a beat with the addition of Sullinger.

Recapping Ohio State vs. Illinois Last Season:

Illinois got mopped up in two regular season losses to the Buckeyes last season.

The Buckeyes came into the Assembly Hall on Valentine’s Day 2010, confused the Illini with a 1-3-1 zone, and took an easy victory that ended a 5-game Illinois winning streak and began a rough finish to the season for the orange and blue. Review the Illini Tale of the Tape.

Reeling after the first Ohio State loss, the Illini fought hard in a rematch at Ohio State on March 2, 2010, before the Buckeyes blew the game open in the final 5 minutes or so. Review the Illini Tale of the Tape.

Illinois and Ohio State met for a third time in 2010, during the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. In a classic game that went two overtimes, the Buckeyes finally put the scrappy Illini away thanks to the unstoppable Turner. Illinois failed to get off potential game-winning shots at the end of regulation and the first overtime, and would be left out of the NCAA Tournament the day after the third Ohio State loss. Review the Illini Tale of the Tape.

Today’s Prediction: Ohio State 79, Illinois 71

When Turner left after last season, I was confident that Illinois would get Ohio State at least once, and maybe even twice, this season considering how tough a matchup the Buckeyes were with that four-guard lineup.

However, with the addition of Sullinger, whom Illinois has no one to bang with, and Craft able to run a four-guard lineup, the Buckeyes are much more scarier than I initially thought.

Even though Ohio State seems ready to lose, I just don’t see Illinois pulling this game out.

For Illinois to get the huge upset, at least two of Ohio State’s four studs (Sullinger, Lighty, Diebler and Buford) must have off-days. To be honest, it will probably take three of those four players to have bad days.

While Illinois will fight hard, Ohio State is too tough on the interior, and Diebler will hit a couple of back-breaking threes like he seemingly always does against Illinois.

What I Would Like to See Tonight from the Illini

1. How Illinois guards Sullinger is the biggest question to me. Mike Davis doesn’t have the upper body, and Mike Tisdale will get destroyed in that matchup. Ultimately, don’t be surprised if Illinois throws all five of its big guys (Davis, Tisdale, Meyers Leonard, Bill Cole and Tyler Griffey) at Sullinger. I hate to say it but I’m not sure those 25 fouls will be enough. Illinois’ big men must play tougher than they have at any point this season, with an active Davis and an engaged Tisdale crucial. Illinois could have some success putting Tisdale in the pick and pop game and drawing Sullinger or Lauderdale out of the lane.

2. Demetri McCamey must set the tone by driving into the lane and getting Ohio State’s perimeter in foul trouble. During the Big Ten semifinal, Illinois was able to hang around by getting Diebler in foul trouble and keeping him on the bench. McCamey needs to attack, attack and attack some more, and hopefully make this a foul-shooting game for the Illini. McCamey, and the Illini as a team, must cut down on its turnovers as Ohio State is too good and will take advantage.

3. Big games from Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Jereme Richmond. Paul and Richmond must provide sparks off the bench like they did against MSU, and Richardson needs to have a big game from behind the arc and on the defensive end, as he will likely get Buford. Paul will get big minutes in this game, and have to make things tough for Buford or Lighty. Whom McCamey has to guard scares me.

4. Hot shooting from the Illini. Illinois must hit at a 50-60% clip from the field in my opinion, and knock down at least 10 threes.

5. Limit the Ohio State homerun. By this, I mean that Illinois must take Diebler out of the game and not allow him to hit a couple of threes in stretches, which killed the Illini last year. Sullinger is going to get his points; can Illinois limit Diebler, Lighty and Buford?

6. An Unknown Stepping Up. As stated earlier, Paul and Richmond will need to be huge. Can either Leonard or Griffey, who had a huge game in the third meeting against OSU last year, have a big impact with both Tisdale and Davis likely in foul trouble.


Until later today.

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Tags: Assembly Hall Basketball Bill Cole Brandon Paul Bruce Weber Crandall Head D.J. Richardson Demetri McCamey Illini Illini Basketball Illinois Illinois Basketball Illinois Fighting Illini Basketball Jereme Richmond Jerrance Howard Joseph Bertrand Meyers Leonard Mike Davis Mike Tisdale Tyler Griffey U-of-I Basketball University Of Illinois Writing Illini

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