Despite their disparate non-conference seasons, both Illinois and Ohio State used the pre-conference schedule to do one thing, teach players a new system. According to Weber, this season has "been an adjustment because we lost the league MVP, Brian Cook, and it took awhile for our kids to adjust to that." Jim O'Brien's task has been similar to Weber's, but he has been hard at work not replacing a dominant player like Cook, but teaching new players, one freshman and two transfers are in Ohio State's starting lineup, how to play within the system.
Heading into the season, many prognosticators looked at Ohio State as a dark horse team that could compete for the Big Ten championship, but right now it looks like Ohio State will struggle to achieve a .500 record in conference play. The Fighting Illini, along with the Wisconsin Badgers, are a team that is looked at to compete for the Big Ten Championship in what this season is considered a rather depleted conference.
Ohio State will head into Champaign and try to exploit Illinois' Achilles heel, defending a large post presence, with junior Terence Dials. Terence is averaging just over eight points and seven rebounds a game, and Jim O'Brien hopes that like Ryan Gomes, Sean May, and Marcus Arnold before him, Illinois will not be able to stop Dials on the inside. The Illini will have to buckle down on defense to keep Dials out of the paint and off the offensive glass. The task of guarding Dials will most likely fall to sophomore James Augustine. Augustine will need to maintain solid defensive positioning and stay out of foul trouble if the Illini are to shut down Ohio State's inside game.
In the backcourt, Ohio State will start one freshman and two transfers while Illinois will start sophomores Dee Brown and Deron Williams. The backcourt advantage lies heavily with the Fighting Illini, especially since Deron Williams is feeling no side effects from his broken jaw. "He's great. We shot around yesterday and watched game film, and he's not sore at all," said Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber as he discussed his point guard during the Big Ten teleconference this week.
This game will not be as easy for the Illini as all the statistics show, but the Illini should defend their home court and give Bruce Weber his first Big Ten win in his first conference game.