Jan 18, 2014; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach John Groce on the sideline calling out a play during the game against the Michigan State Spartans at State Farm Center. The Michigan State Spartans beat the Illinois Fighting Illini 78-62. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Fighting Illini Basketball: Illinois vs. #17 Ohio State Buckeyes Preview and Live Thread

The Illinois Fighting Illini and Ohio State Buckeyes are set to do battle on the hardwood tonight, and both squads enter this game scuffling, having lost their last 4 games in conference. The Buckeyes had once reached the #3 spot in the entire nation, but right now they aren’t playing like a team deserving of that lofty ranking.

During their recent 4 game losing streak, the Buckeyes have dropped games against Michigan State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska. All of those games were on the road with the exception of the Iowa game. So, where has it gone wrong for Ohio State?

For starters, point guard Aaron Craft has 19 turnovers across the 4 losses including 4 in his last outing against the Huskers. As a team, Ohio State has turned the ball over 64 times during the four game losing streak. By comparison, Illinois has only turned the ball over 35 times over their four game skid.

The Buckeyes have also struggled mightily from the charity stripe this season. They currently check in as the league’s second worst free throw shooting team at 68.4%. If it’s tight down the stretch, the Illini need to look to foul Shannon Scott (66.7%), and as strange as it sounds, LaQuinton Ross (66.7%). They are the Buckeyes worst free throw shooters out of their regular rotation players.

While we’re talking about him. shutting down LaQuinton Ross is the top priority for the Fighting Illini tonight. He currently leads the Buckeyes in scoring (13.9 ppg), and is second on the team in rebounding (5.7 rpg). Ross has hit double digits in each of his last 3 games (22, 22, 11), but in his most recent game he only shot 33% from the floor and 50% from the charity stripe.

The only other double digit scoring average on the team belongs to Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (11.9 ppg). Smith has went for 10, 8, and 10 points respectively in each of his past 3 games. Most Buckeye fans would probably tell you that they expect more from the 6’4″ senior guard, but so far this season he has only hit the 20 point mark 1 time. Certainly, Illinois needs to be cognizant of Smith’s ability to score, but he isn’t quite the game in, game out scoring threat that the Illini have faced in other match-ups during the Big Ten portion of their schedule.

Three Things I’d like to see tonight:

How about the obvious one? WIN! – Something has to give here. Both teams are struggling big time as each comes in riding a 4 game losing streak. Why doesn’t Illinois be the team to finally snap a streak on someone and steal this one in Columbus tonight?

Run some set plays to get Maverick Morgan some looks from 8-10 feet out – Morgan has been shooting the ball very well in his limited looks, but none of them are actually set plays designed to get him looks. Run something for the big man when he is in the game and see if his ability to hit the mid-range jumper helps to loosen up the lane so that the guards can get back to what they do best (driving to the rim).

Crank up the pressure – Ohio State has been struggling with turnovers recently. Perhaps ratcheting up the pressure on made field goals would cause the Buckeyes some heartache. Don’t be afraid to press, at least until the Buckeyes prove they can beat it consistently.

The Skinny

When: Thursday, January 23, 2014, 6:02 PM CST

Where: Value City Arena – Columbus, OH

TV: ESPN (Directv 206 / DISH Network 140)

Announcers: Joe Tessitore (Play by Play) and Sean Farnham (Analyst)

Feel free to drop back in during the game and chat with me in the comments section below with any observations you may have! I-L-L!

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.


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Tags: Illinois Fighting Illini Maverick Morgan

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