HQ forecast: No. 14 Ohio State 68, Illinois 63

HQ forecast: No. 14 Ohio State 68, Illinois 63

Sneak peek:

Illinois at Ohio State,
11:30 a.m. today

Illinois (21-10, 8-9 Big Ten)

P    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Tracy Abrams    So.    6-1    10.6
G    D.J. Richardson    Sr.    6-3    12.8
G    Brandon Paul    Sr.    6-4    16.2
F    Sam McLaurin    Sr.    6-8    4.2
C    Nnanna Egwu    So.    6-11    6.6
FYI: Paul needs one steal to become the second player in program history (Mark Smith) with 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 150 steals.
G    Joseph Bertrand    Jr.    6-6    7.7
F    Tyler Griffey    Sr.    6-9    7.2
F    Myke Henry    So.    6-6    3.5

Ohio State (22-7, 12-5 Big Ten)
P    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Aaron Craft    Jr.    6-2    9.6
G    Lenzelle Smith Jr.    Jr.    6-4    10.1
F    Sam Thompson    So.    6-7    7.1
F    Deshaun Thomas    Jr.    6-7    19.8
C    Amir Williams    So.    6-11    4.1
FYI: With 573 points this season, Thomas is the 14th player in Ohio State history to score 500 or more points in a season during his career after scoring 619 last season.
F    LaQuniton Ross    So.    6-8    7.4
G    Shannon Scott    So.    6-1    5.0
C    Evan Ravenel    Sr.    6-8    5.3

Value City Arena (18,809), Columbus, Ohio
TV: ESPN — Bob Wischusen (play-by-play) and former Indiana coach Dan Dakich (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 104-70. Last meeting — Illinois 74, Ohio State 55, Jan. 5.
FYI: Ohio State’s lone senior, Evan Ravenel, will be honored. The Buckeyes are 7-1 on Senior Day under Matta, with the only loss coming last year against Wisconsin.

Marcus Jackson’s storylines

Aaron Craft’s offensive game has come along in recent weeks. The Ohio State point guard took over on that end in Tuesday’s win at Indiana, scoring 15 points. But he’s a highlight on the scouting report for his defense, and the Illinois guards will have their hands full with the conference’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year. “It’s fun, he’s a good guy, a good kid off the court. He’s a competitor, he loves to win,” Illinois’ D.J. Richardson said of Craft, who is second in the Big Ten at 2.0 steals per game. In the first meeting, Illinois turned it over 18 times, with Craft coming away with four steals.

It’s been a while since John Groce expressed his displeasure with his team’s toughness, but the first-year coach was less than thrilled with his team’s fortitude in Tuesday’s loss at Iowa. Toughness was an issue during Illinois’ 2-7 start in conference play, but in winning 6 of 7, the toughness issue appeared to be old news. Today’s Big Ten finale and the upcoming Big Ten tournament offer chances for the Illini to right that ship. “More than anything, it’s mental. It’s the mind. You’ve got to be mentally ready to go. If you’re mentally ready to go, a lot of the things that come up in toughness areas, you do those things well and at a high level because the mental part’s there. As I look at it, more of it’s mental and our ability to focus,” Groce said.

It wasn’t all bad at Iowa on Tuesday. Defensively, Illinois kept itself in the game because it held the Hawkeyes to 39 percent shooting — 28 percent in the second half. It was the second time this season the Illini lost when their opponent shot 40 percent or worse from the floor — against 11 wins, including one against Ohio State (33.3 percent) on Jan. 5. “They struggled to score, unfortunately we struggled to score more. We took some good things away from the game Tuesday in terms of our defensive numbers and what we need to do defensively,” Groce said.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 68, Illinois 63
Today’s game still has Big Ten tournament seeding implications for both teams. Ohio State is in the NCAA tournament and Illinois is in good shape, too, despite what happens today. With a win, Illinois would get to .500 in conference play and would pretty much lock up an NCAA tournament berth. Is the job that Groce & Co. have done this season more impressive than taking 13th-seeded Ohio to the Sweet 16 last season? That’s open for debate. A win in a tough environment would provide momentum heading into postseason play, though the Buckeyes are peaking. (N-G record 19-12).