Beat writer Marcus Jackson's take on today's game between Ohio State and Illinois (1:15 p.m., BTN)
Illinois (13-2, 0-1 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 12.1
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 10.7
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 18.5
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 9.1
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 6.0
FYI: Despite his recent shooting slump, Richardson has made a three-point field goal in 21 consecutive games, a career-long streak.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 9.1
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 4.1
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 3.7
Ohio State (11-2, 1-0 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Aaron Craft Jr. 6-2 8.3
G Lenzelle Smith Jr. Jr. 6-4 11.6
F Sam Thompson So. 6-7 7.5
F Deshaun Thomas Jr. 6-7 19.9
C Evan Ravenel Sr. 6-8 6.2
FYI: Thomas, who leads the Big Ten in scoring, is shooting 70 percent and averaging 14 points in four career games against the Illini.
OFF THE BENCH
F LaQuinton Ross So. 6-8 9.5
G Shannon Scott So. 6-1 6.5
C Amir Williams So. 6-11 4.8
Site: The Assembly Hall (16,618), Champaign.
TV: BTN — Kevin Kugler (play-by-play) and former Ohio State All-American Jim Jackson (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Illinois leads 100-65. Last meeting — Ohio State 83, Illinois 67, Feb. 21, 2012.
FYI: When Illinois and Ohio State enter the game against one another ranked in the AP Top 25, the series is tied 5-5.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
Who’s going to guard Deshaun Thomas? The question more likely is who isn’t going to guard the preseason All-America pick, who leads the conference in scoring. John Groce was asked Friday who would draw the assignment. He respectfully declined to provide an answer. “He’s a load, and he can get you inside and out. He can get you on the glass; he can post you, drive it, shoot it,” Groce said. “He’s a very, very versatile offensive player, and I think that’s what makes him such a threat.”
Just as Thomas is at the top of the Illinois scouting report, Brandon Paul tops the Buckeyes’ game plan. Not only because he erupted for 43 against them last season in Champaign, but because he’s been consistent as a senior, scoring in double figures in 15 straight games, which ties a career best. A key to his consistency has been remaining patient as teams try to limit his opportunities. “I think I might have hunted shots a little bit more when teams tried to lock down on me,” he said. “I think this year, I’m a lot smarter player, I’m moving a lot without the ball and I’m going to continue trying to get better.”
As Groce watched film in preparation for Purdue, D.J. Byrd’s toughness stood out. Byrd made what the coach calls a toughness play at the end of the game that might have been the difference. Ohio State’s Craft is equally tough, and Groce is continuing to develop a culture of toughness within the Illinois program. “It’s something we want to be a major part in what we’re about that’s a part of our fabric, a part of our DNA,” he said. “I think for the most part it has been. It’s a big reason why we’re in the situation we’re in and have had some success here early.”
Prediction: Ohio State 71, Illinois 68
If there was such a thing as a must-win game in the conference opener, Wednesday’s at Purdue could be categorized as such for the Illini. Instead of locking up a road win against a down Purdue squad, Illinois put itself in position to start the Big Ten season at 0-3 with No. 8 OSU and No. 9 Minnesota coming to town for games. Winning one of the these two games will be critical going forward. “In this league you play 18 games,” Groce said. “They’re coming at you about every two or three days, right at you. You don’t have time to celebrate or lick your wounds; you can’t do that.” (N-G record: 11-4)