The #11 Illinois Fighting Illini will play the #8 Ohio State Buckeyes at Assembly Hall.
The Illini did not play well in their conference opener against Purdue on Wednesday. They shot a miserable 35.9 percent from the field and just 38.5 percent from 3-point range.
However, coach John Groce believes his team is ready for the challenge on Saturday. In yesterday’s press conference, Groce said “In this league you play 18 games. We talked about it before game one, when the second season started (referring to conference play) and they’re coming at you about every two or three days. So you don’t have time, to celebrate or lick you woes” (Source: fightingillini.com).
The Buckeyes come into this contest as the eighth best team in the nation. They are 11-2 overall and are 1-0 in the Big Ten after defeating Nebraska in their last game.
Ohio State’s best player by far is junior forward Deshaun Thomas.
So far this season, Thomas is averaging 19.9 points per game which is the best in the conference.
He has scored double-digits in every game this season including 16 points against both Kansas and Duke.
John Groce mentioned in yesterday’s press conference that Thomas is having an “All-American type year.”
Thomas is not just leading the Buckeyes in scoring, but is leading the team in rebounding as well. In OSU’s conference opener, Thomas scored 22 points while hauling in eight rebounds.
Deshaun Thomas and Illinois’ Brandon Paul have something in common coming into Saturday’s game. Both players have scored double-digits in every single game this season.
Another player who can score for Ohio State is junior guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. Smith is second on the team with 11.6 points per game and has scored double-digits and grabbed six rebounds in each of the Buckeyes’ last two games.
This will be 174th meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Buckeyes. Illinois leads the series 103-70. The Illini defeated the Buckeyes last season at Assembly Hall. Ohio State was ranked at #5 and Paul scored a career-high 43 points.
Another story in this game involves head coach John Groce. When Groce looks over at the Ohio State bench, he will see a familiar face. Before he was the head coach at Ohio, Groce spent eight years as an assistant under Thad Matta (at three different schools). Groce was on the Buckeyes’ staff when they went to the National Championship in 2007.
Illinois will need to perform better on offense if they want to beat the Buckeyes on Saturday. They were bad in the conference opener, but can still bounce back. After their first loss to Missouri, the Illini bounced back nicely against Auburn.
Illinois will need Brandon Paul to step up in this game. Someone will need to try to match Deshaun Thomas and Paul is their best bet. Also, Paul’s supporting cast will need to support him. Expect Thomas and Paul to match each other, but the winner will come from which supporting cast plays better.
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