Champaign, IL – The fifth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes will try to hand the Illinois Fighting Illini their first loss at Assembly Hall, when the two meet tonight for a Big Ten Conference bout in Champaign.
This will be the 172nd meeting in the all-time series between these two historic Big Ten powers. Illinois holds a 102-69 advantage in the rivalry, but the Buckeyes have won five straight over the Illini coming into tonight. Last year's encounter in Champaign ended with Ohio State ahead 73-68, much closer than the 89-70 result in Columbus that took place exactly one month later on February 22nd, 2011.
Thad Matta's Buckeyes come in with an impressive 15-2 record after dominating Iowa 76-47 their last time out. The victory improved the team's Big Ten record to 2-1, as it lost to Indiana in its conference opener on New Year's Eve. The only losses for Ohio State came from ranked opponents, Kansas and Indiana. The Buckeyes are great on both sides of the floor this season and exhibited their talents against Iowa by shooting 51.6 percent from the field and holding the Hawkeyes to 32.1 percent shooting. Ohio State leads the nation with an average scoring margin of plus 23.1 coming into tonight.
Jared Sullinger leads the charge for Ohio State with averages of 17.1 ppg and 9.6 rpg. The star sophomore had a season-high 28 points on 13-of-18 shooting from the field against Iowa in his last outing. Sullinger has recorded double- doubles this season and is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week. William Buford and Deshaun Thomas are both quality players for the Buckeyes as they each have averages around 15 ppg. Buford had an off-night offensively against Iowa, going 3-of-14 from the field for eight points, but still contributed 11 rebounds in the winning effort. Thomas has scored in double figures in both of Ohio State's previous two games.
Illinois is coming off a 59-54 win over Nebraska on Saturday. The victory brought the Fighting Illini's overall record to 14-3 and made its Big Ten record 3-1. Head coach Bruce Weber has to be pleased with his team's defensive performance as of late, as it has held its last three opponents to 60 points or less. Upsets are more common if the underdog has success from three-point range, unfortunately for Illinois it is ranked last in three-point percentage coming into tonight, connecting on only 31.6 percent from beyond the arc. The Fighting Illini will need to continue their stellar defensive effort to grind out a win over the talented Buckeyes.
D.J. Richardson and Meyers Leonard are a quality one-two punch that is going to be tough for Ohio State to stop. Richardson is a very talented scoring guard and he leads the team with 13.2 ppg. Richardson had scored in double figures in eight straight games, but has fallen off lately scoring just 10 total points in his last two outings. Leonard has improved to become one of better centers in the Big Ten. The 7-1 post player is averaging 12.9 ppg and is the third-best rebounder in the conference with 8.0 boards per game. Brandon Paul is third on the team in scoring with 12.1 ppg and leads it in assists. The Fighting Illini will need the bench to step up and produce more than the seven-point contribution it submitted versus Nebraska.