Preview & Prediction: By Blake Hofstad
This Big Ten battle features two squads looking to separate themselves from the muddled mess in the middle of the conference. Five teams have 2 conference losses. Ohio State (13-3, 3-2) and #24 Illinois (15-3, 3-2) are two such teams. The Buckeyes picked up a nice road win at Michigan on Saturday, while Illinois is coming off a heartbreaking road loss to conference leading Michigan State, a game in which the Illini led by seven at halftime only to squander their lead in the next 20 minutes. If Ohio State can garner another nice road win early in Big Ten season, they will have just three tough road tests remaining, @ Wisconsin, @ Northwestern and @ Purdue. That is very favorable for an NCAA Tournament bid. Illinois needs a win to kick off a brutal stretch that includes Wisconsin twice, a road game at Minnesota and Purdue.
Ohio State comes in off a very good win. They stumbled into conference play after an embarrassing loss to West Virginia brought the high-flying Bucks back to earth. They proceeded to lose two of their first three conference games. The win over Michigan has them playing good ball once again. The freshmen William Buford and BJ Mullens turned in wonderful performances. They have both stepped up lately, going for double digits in the last four games. Their help will be needed against Illinois. The battle in the post will be fierce, as team leader Evan Turner, the athletic Mullens and expert shot swatter Dallas Lauderdale face off with the tall tandem of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. Both teams are very even on the boards, so whoever wins this facet of the game will have a slim advantage. Jon Diebler shoots and shoots often from long range. Over 75% of his shots come from downtown. He needs to outshoot the Illinois sharpshooter Trent Meachem. Jeremie Simmons leads the team in assists coming off the bench. Like the aforementioned Buckeyes, he has also elevated his play in recent weeks, notching a career high 12 points and 8 assists against Indiana.
In a conference where balance is commonplace and rarely does one player take over for a team, Illinois may stand out as the most balanced. They have no player averaging more than 12 points a game, yet four average between 11 and 12. The Illini also have three players coming off the bench averaging between 5 and 6.5 points a game. The catalyst of the Illinois squad is unheralded point guard Chester Frazier. He leads the team in assists at around 6 a game, is second in rebounds (as a 6-2 point man) with 4.5 and leads in steals. He is Illinois’ response to Adam Emmenecker. Demetri McCamey leads Illinois in scoring, but his backcourt mate Trent Meachem is right behind. 7-1 goliath Mike Tisdale mans the post with 6-10 Mike Davis, the team’s leading rebounder. Tisdale plays the garbage man role, gobbling up offensive rebounds for easy layups. Illinois’ steady bench includes Alex Legion, the Kentucky transfer, Calvin Brock, the fifth year senior and Dominique Keller, the most proficient scorer on the Illinois squad. Legion is a shoot-first, pass and play defense later guy, but he’s learning. The scrappy Brock has the height to get after the ball on the offensive boards. Keller scores more points a minute than any other member of this team.
The Illini are the better team. Throw in the home court advantage, and this game is there’s for the taking. However, the Big Ten is chock full of games sure to be close due to some extreme parity in the league. This matchup is one of them. If Ohio State can sneak out of Champaign with a W, they will be back on track and poised to make a run at Michigan State.
Winner: Illinois Margin: 7-11
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About Blake Hofstad
An avid sports fan, you can nearly always find Blake Hofstad playing, watching, writing or just talking sports. His favorite team is the Wisconsin Badgers, and he is a huge Big Ten and Missouri Valley fan. The two things he hates about college basketball are Duke and the love Duke gets from most media members. You can find more of Blake's work on Onlinesportsfanatic.com.