PREVIEW: Illinois at Ohio State

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews Illinois' first Big Ten road test at Ohio State on Sunday.

Illinois (8-6, 0-1) vs.

Ohio State (9-5, 1-0)

Date & Time: Jan. 3, 4 p.m. CT

Location: Value City Arena (Columbus, Ohio)

TV: BTN

Quick Hits

  • The Buckeyes are riding a five-game winning streak into this one, which includes a 74-67 win over Kentucky.
  • Ohio State has already lost three home games (Louisiana Tech, UT-Arlington & Virginia), which is more than all of last season.
  • The Buckeyes are the sixth youngest team in D-1 college basketball.
  • Illinois head coach John Groce spent eight seasons under Thad Matta between Butler (2000-01), Xavier (2001-04) and Ohio State (2004-08).
  • The Illini are 104-74 all-time against the Buckeyes, but they have lost their last four in this series.
  • Ohio State crushed Illinois 77-61 in Columbus during their most recent meeting last January.
  • The Buckeyes have won nine of their last 10 against the Illini at home.

Projected Starters

Jaylon Tate (JR): Tate played a career-high 34 minutes on Wednesday against Michigan, as Khalid Lewis was out with the mumps. He finished with six points, four assists and only one turnover. Tate will carry a big load in Lewis' absence, although Hill will see quite a bit of time at the point too.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (FR): Coleman-Lands provided a big spark for the Illini offense in the first half against Michigan. He had 11 points with three long bombs through the first 20 minutes. Coleman-Lands is shooting higher than 46 percent from three over the last four games.

Kendrick Nunn (JR): Nunn came to play in the Big Ten opener, as he totaled a team-high 23 points to go along with six rebounds. The junior wing is shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from deep this season. Nunn has the highest scoring average in the Big Ten at 19 points per game.

Malcolm Hill (JR): Hill was missing in action for the majority of Wednesday's clash with Michigan. He entered the game as the leading scorer in the Big Ten, but he had just three points in the first half and finished with 11 on 3-of-11 shooting. The Illini can't afford for him to have an off game.

Michael Finke (R-FR): Finke was officially welcomed to the Big Ten against the Wolverines. The redshirt freshman posted seven points and eight rebounds, but he was exposed down low defensively. That is going to be a reoccurring issue in Big Ten play.

Bench

Alex Austin (R-JR): After not seeing the floor against Missouri, Austin played 15 minutes off the bench on Wednesday. He did not score a point but he had two assists and two steals.

Maverick Morgan (JR): Morgan scored a trio of buckets during his 12 minutes of action against Michigan. However, he did not record a rebound and he was called for two illegal screens.

Aaron Jordan (FR): Jordan had two points and one rebound in 10 minutes on Wednesday. After a hot start to the season from three, Jordan is just 2-of-15 from long range over the last six games.

D.J. Williams (FR): Williams played just three minutes in his Big Ten debut, as he had no points and one rebound.

Khalid Lewis (GR): Lewis was at home battling the mumps instead of battling the Wolverines on Wednesday. He was back at Ubben on Saturday, but Groce said he would not be available against Ohio State. The hope is to have him ready to go next week against Michigan State.

Cameron Liss (SO): Liss has not played yet this season.

Ohio State Starters

JaQuan Lyle (FR): Lyle caused the Illini headaches on the recruiting trail, and he will pose a challenge for them on Sunday. At 6-foot-5, Lyle is big, physical point guard for the Buckeyes. He makes his team go at the offensive end, and he dished out 13 assists in 24 minutes against Minnesota.

Marc Loving (JR): Loving leads the Buckeyes with 14.4 points per game, and he is also averaging 5.9 rebounds per contest. He posted 20 points and six rebounds in the Big Ten opener against Minnesota. The Illini will have to make sure that Loving doesn't get hot from three.

Jae'Sean Tate (SO): Tate packs a punch in his 6-foot-4 frame. He is averaging 11.4 points per game, and he leads the Buckeyes with 6.7 rebounds per game. Tate had 10 points and three rebounds against Minnesota.

Keita Bates-Diop (SO): The former Illini target has emerged during his sophomore season. Bates-Diop is averaging 13 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He posted 13 points and six rebounds against Minnesota, and he has scored in double figures in five straight games.

Trevor Thompson (SO): Thompson is averaging 6.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. He is also becoming a defensive stopper in the paint, as he has totaled 14 blocks over the last five games. Thompson had six points, six rebounds and three blocks against Minnesota.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Push the tempo. The Buckeyes have an obvious size advantage, but the Illini can neutralize that a little bit by getting out in transition. Illinois has made it a point of emphasis to play uptempo since Mike Thorne Jr. went down. Forcing turnovers is a big key to pushing the ball the other way. The Illini forced Michigan to turn it over 10 times in the first half on Wednesday, which helped them capture a three-point lead going into halftime. In the second half, the Wolverines made it more of a halfcourt game and the Illini offense sputtered. Illinois will try to spread out their attack and make Ohio State's bigs guard away from the paint. They are the second best shot-blocking team in the Big Ten. 

2. Win the battle on the perimeter. If the Big Ten opener against Michigan was any indication, the Illini are not going to win games down low. They were outscored 38-24 in the paint, and they allowed sophomore big man Mark Donnal to have a career day with 26 points and nine boards. Ohio State is seventh in the Big Ten in rebounding margin, while the Illini are dead last. The Buckeyes like to attack around the rim with Tate, Bates-Diop and Thompson. Finke will be challenged once again, but it's important that the Illini defend on the perimeter to make things easier on him. Ohio State has been known to turn it over, and Lyle is averaging three giveaways per game. Illinois has to keep the ball out of the lane as much as possible to have a chance.

3. Illini duo must be dynamic. Nunn and Hill have carried a heavy burden this season, and that isn't going to change throughout the rest of the Big Ten schedule. The Illini need them to play up to their potential night in and night out. Nunn answered the call against Michigan, but Hill left more to be desired. He'll need to show up in a big way on Sunday. It won't be easy, as the Buckeyes rank top-30 in the country in defensive efficiency. It's no secret that the Illini are a jump-shooting team. They have taken an average of 26.4 threes per game over the last five contests. That certainly won't change against a team that makes it tough to score off the drive. Getting Finke and Coleman-Lands to knock down some jumpers would be big, but Nunn and Hill will have to do the heavy lifting.

Prediction

The Illini are faced with another tough but winnable game. Ohio State is a young group, but they are playing with quite a bit of confidence now that things are starting to click. Illinois will be in it if Hill and Nunn have big games. But most importantly, the Illini have to find a way to play up to par in the second half. They've been outscored in the second half during their last five games. The Illini led at halftime against Ohio State last season, but they were outscored 41-24 in final 20 minutes. This one has the potential to be close, but the Buckeyes' defense and superior frontcourt give them the advantage.

Ohio State 72, Illinois 65


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