Turner and Buford must tickle the twine
The Buckeyes welcome Illinois to the Schott for a national TV clash on the heels of back to back road losses against Northwestern and Wisconsin dropping them to 7-6 in conference play.
The Illini arrive in Columbus holding on to third place in the Big Ten standings at 9-4 with their most recent outing resulting in a dismal 38-33 loss, at home no less, to Penn State. The loss snapped a three game win streak as Bruce Weber's squad shot 30% from the floor with 15 turnovers triggering the lowest offensive output for the program since 1947.
This will be the second match up between OSU and Illinois this season after the Illini took Ohio State behind the woodshed thrashing the Buckeyes 67-49 in Champaign on January 20th.
The win snapped a five game losing streak against the Buckeyes as Illinois handed OSU their worst loss in conference play since a 19 point beat down at the hands of the Illini back in 2005.
Chester Frazier and company completely shut down Evan Turner in the first contest holding him to a season low four points on 2/7 shooting while forcing the Buckeyes into more turnovers (20) than field goals (19). The key for Weber was employing heavy ball pressure on the lackluster OSU point guards making it extremely difficult for them to initiate the offense while Frazier took nest in Turner's shorts allowing him a season low two field goals. Surely, the best scoring and field goal percentage defense in the conference (55.6) will use the same game plan in an effort to disrupt the league's best field goal shooting team and second best scoring offense (67.0) on Sunday.
Offensively, Illinois attacked the OSU zone at foul line extended and in the short corners led by 7'1" Mike Tisdale's 15 points. Ball movement around the zone allowed Illinois to place four in double figures and with four guys averaging double digits on the year, it will take a a more inspired effort from Buckeye defenders if they plan to pull a very necessary mild upset at home.
Demetri McCamey hurt OSU with a 13 point, 7 assist outing and besides Tisdale the front liners need to keep an eye on the athletic Mike Davis and Dominique Keller, a 6'7", 230 lb reserve who took advantage of OSU's lack of a true four man on defense to take a season high 10 shots, making six, in a 12 point, six rebound performance in only 20 minutes.
I expect some home cookin' will be the remedy for what was a lackluster effort in Evanston both on the court and the sidelines but it's going to take more than playing hard to secure what would be a huge boost to the resume. I know plenty of folks think an NCAA bid is all but secured however I think this could easily be the swing game of the season.
A win would stop a two game slide (admittedly roadies) and give the Buckeyes a much needed jolt of confidence which is of increased importance considering this game is the first of three critical match ups in seven days with Penn State coming to Columbus on Tuesday and a trip to West Lafayette slated for Saturday.
Conversely, a home loss would send the Buckeyes limping into two crucial games riding a three game losing streak combined with the increasing no-brainer that is Lighty won't be back to help right the ship.
As usual, an Ohio State victory will hinge on whether or not Evan Turner goes off and gets some legit help from at least one and a half other teammates. Jon Diebler was that second scorer against Northwestern blowing up for 28 but those came against arguably the league's worst defense. Of course, Illinois shut down Diebler in the first game holding him to six points on just five shots and I think it's logical to predict he'll be a non-to-small factor scoring wise on Sunday.
Truth is, Diebler has a penchant for going off against the Big Ten's garbage defenses. His four best scoring outputs in conference are against the three worst defenses: 28 on Northwestern, 27 on Iowa and 21 and 17, respectively, on Indiana.
The good news is it can also be argued Diebler is streaky which could carryover to Sunday but I have a hunch it will be Buford, not Diebler, who steps up against the athletic Illini.
If nothing else, Buford is due to break out of his three game shooting slump and he'll likely have to take plenty of shots since he's one of two Buckeyes who can create his own. Buford hit only 5 of 14 in the loss at Assembly Hall but one thing I don't worry about with him is confidence.
B.J. Mullens went for 14 and seven but struggled with the physicality of the Illini defense committing four turnovers back in January. Still, he's a guy that could be a major factor. He did a good job of attacking the bucket in the first game but that was rendered irrelevant thanks to a 2/9 performance from the stripe.
For all the flak he takes, Mullens has averaged 11 and 8 over the last three games and reached double figures in 10 of the last 12 Big Ten games. Plus, he doesn't totally shrivel against the league's top three teams. In four games against Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois, he's averaging 14.8 points and 6.5 boards. Certainly not otherworldly but decent.
As for the other big, I'm not even discussing the regression that is Dallas Invisidale until there's a worthy reason. Obviously, Matta's actions speak for us - Dallas has seen no more than 13 minutes the last three games after averaging over 22 minutes in each of the previous 10 conference games. Disappointing. And my expectations of 7.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg seemed so realistic back in November.
Quickly, other keys to this one include better ball handling from Turner and the gruesome twosome of Hill and Simmons yielding more field goal attempts and the obvious need to improve defensive intensity on the glass and in swiftness of rotations.
I admit this could be a homer pick but something tells me OSU avoids the three game losing streak thanks to home court and the fact they need this one significantly more than Illinois and they know it.