Illinois (11-14, 5-10 Big Ten) at No. 15 Ohio State (19-8, 10-5), 6 p.m. today
Setting the scene
The Illini will try to pick themselves off the mat after turning in their flattest offensive performance of the season Thursday night at No. 2 Penn State. Illinois scored a season-low 48 points in the three-set sweep — four fewer than its previous low in the Aug. 24 opener at Dayton. The Illini attack struggled mightily, hitting a season-low .034 while committing 23 errors. Illinois also was guilty of 10 service errors, the fourth time in the last five matches it finished in double figures in that category. ... Since losing to Penn State on Oct. 17, the Buckeyes have won five of six matches. Highlighting the surge was a four-set victory at then-No. 4 Nebraska. The lone defeat in this stretch came in a five-set battle against No. 10 Minnesota. ... Entering the season, Illinois had dominated this series, winning nine straight. After breaking that streak Oct. 5 at Huff Hall, Ohio State is in position to sweep the season series for the first time since 2007. ... Here’s a ray of hope for the Illini: The Buckeyes are ordinary at home (6-5 at St. John Arena). ... Illinois needs to go at least 4-1 to avoid its first losing record since 2002. That Illini team finished 13-16. ... For the second time this season, UI coach Kevin Hambly has made a significant lineup change in an attempt to get his team back on track. The Illini are two matches in with Liz McMahon as an outside hitter after moving from the right side. Fellow starter Ali Stark, in turn, switched from the left side to the right side. The 6-foot-6 McMahon had an encouraging debut on the left side last Saturday, producing 15 kills and hitting .314 in a win against Indiana. Against Penn State, however, the sophomore committed eight errors in 20 swings and hit minus-.200. ... Hambly switched setters during the Penn State match, pulling Annie Luhrsen in the third set with Illinois trailing 11-1. Alexis Viliunas went the rest of the way. Viliunas made four starts in October before Hambly returned Luhrsen to the starting lineup.
The scoop on Ohio State
Coach: Geoff Carlston (fifth year, 101-65)
Players to watch: Sr. OH Emily Danks, Sr. OH Mari Hole, Sr. S Amanda Peterson
About the Buckeyes: Given its veteran lineup, Ohio State expected this to be a highly successful season, and it’s turned out that way. Senior starters Danks, Peterson and Mariah Booth were part of Carlston’s first recruiting class. Fellow classmate Hole joined the Buckeyes last season after transferring from UCLA. The Buckeyes averaged 23.3 wins in the last three seasons and are one victory from their fourth consecutive 20-win season. ... Carlston recorded his 100th victory at Ohio State on Nov. 2 against Wisconsin. He’s the third coach in program history to reach that milestone. Carlston, who previously coached at Concordia (Minn.) and Ohio University, needs six wins to reach 300 in his 13-year career. ... Hole has 15 double-doubles this season after notching 19 kills and 13 digs Wednesday in a four-set win against Northwestern.