Where: Assembly Hall - Champaign, Illinois
When: 2:00pm EST
Records: OSU 12-2 (1-0); Illini 12-4 (0-1)
Opponent: Illinois hosts OSU in their conference home opener fresh off a lackluster performance in Ann Arbor Wednesday night. Michigan parlayed at 13-0 second half run into a 71-61 win over the Illini, who were led by Jamar Smithâ€™s 17 points and Warren Carterâ€™s 14 and 8 rebounds. Bruce Weberâ€™s squad struggled to make shots, hitting just 7 of their 21 three point attempts and only 67% from the stripe while losing the battle on the boards 33-25. The loss at Michigan was their second consecutive defeat. Illinois lost to Xavier 65-59 back on 12/29. Going on the road in the Big11Ten is always a chore, but Ohio State is the better team and should come away with a victory in a game that will not be as slow, but just as physical, as Tuesdayâ€™s victory over Indiana.
Players: Senior forward Warren Carter leads the Illini in scoring (13.9) and is second in rebounding (6.5) while guard Jamar Smith averages 13.5 points and shoots 44% on threes. 6â€™10â€ junior forward/center Shaun Pruitt chips in 11.3 points and leads the team in rebounding at 7.4 per contest. Pruitt, Carter and 6â€™8â€ forward Brian Randle will try to contain Greg Oden and Othello Hunter down low. Illinois leads the conference in offensive rebounding.
Notes: Illinoisâ€™ best chance for an upset rests on their ability to hit the three. In their previous two losses, theyâ€™ve made just 13/40 (32%). In contrast, their last victory (albeit over Idaho St) saw the Illini shoot 13/34 (38%) from downtown. I would imagine Illinois will shoot a high number of threes in the contest Saturday provided Oden stays out of foul trouble.
Buckeye Breakdown: OSU looks to improve to 2-0 in the conference after beating Indiana 74-67 at home Tuesday night. The inside combo of Greg Oden and Othello Hunter combined to score 35 points, grab 11 rebounds, and block 7 shots while holding Indianaâ€™s DJ White to 3-14 shooting. Hunter was especially impressive going 5-6 from the field and 4-4 from the stripe to provide a lift when Oden was on the bench saddled with foul difficulty. To win Saturday, OSU will need to improve on their dismal 4-15 (26%) three point shooting effort against the Hoosiers while defending the three with more efficiency than theyâ€™ve shown as of late. Indiana shot a blistering 55% from downtown (12-22) allowing them to hang around until the final minutes. That formula will not bode well in front of the Orange Krush in Assembly Hall.
Key Players: Super-frosh Daequan Cook did 11W proud, backing up my comments before the game scoring 12 points on 4-6 shooting including 2-3 from downtown. Cook also had two assists leading to monster dunks by Hunter and grabbed 3 boards in 27 minutes. Daequan is on fire for the season, hitting 57% of his field goal attempts including a team high 52% from beyond the arc. Point guard Mike Conley Jr. put on another clinic at the point with 9 points, 10 assists, and 0 turnovers in 31 minutes of action. Look for Conley Jr. to again get the big men involved in the offense early to open up the outside for Cook, Ron Lewis and Jamar Butler. Something tells me we are due to get hot from outside.
Notes: The game is being televised by ESPN with Brad Nessler and â€˜Slick Steveâ€™ Lavin on the micsâ€¦Conley Jr. sits atop the Big11Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio with Butler fourthâ€¦Conley Jr. is also on pace to break the all-time OSU single-season assist record of 188 set by Curtis Wilsonâ€¦Next up: @ #4 Wisconsin Tuesday at 9pm.