HQ prediction: No. 22 OSU 67, UI 63
No. 22 Ohio State at Illinois,
7 p.m. today
Illinois (14-11, 3-9 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 11.1
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 4.9
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 16.8
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 3.8
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 6.8
FYI: After going scoreless against
Ohio State on Jan. 23, Rice is averaging 17.8 points per game in the five games since.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.3
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 10.4
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 7.7
Ohio State (19-6, 6-6 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Aaron Craft Sr. 6-2 9.3
G Lenzelle Smith Jr. Sr. 6-4 12.0
G Sam Thompson Jr. 6-7 7.1
F LaQuinton Ross Jr. 6-8 14.6
C Amir Williams Jr. 6-11 9.1
FYI: Craft and Smith have been a part of 113 wins during their careers, 16 shy of David Lighty’s record for Ohio State four-year seniors.
OFF THE BENCH
G Shannon Scott Jr. 6-1 7.6
F Mark Loving Fr. 6-7 5.2
G Amedeo Della Valle So. 6-5 4.6
Site: State Farm Center (16,618), Champaign.
TV: BTN — Brian Anderson (play-by-play) and Shon Morris (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 104-72. Last meeting: Ohio State 62, Illinois 55, Jan. 23, 2014 (Columbus).
FYI: Morris, the former Northwestern big man, has been the television analyst on five of the last six Illini games for Big Ten Network. The only game Morris hasn’t called during the run was the Feb. 1 game against Iowa that former Illini Stephen Bardo called.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1 Prior to Friday’s practice at State Farm Center, Illinois point guard Tracy Abrams worked on his jump shot and took some pointers from assistant coach Jamall Walker. Abrams has struggled with his shot the last two games, going 0 for 9 from the floor with five points combined in the win at Penn State and the loss at Nebraska. Abrams is hoping to get back on track tonight against a tough defensive team in Ohio State. “I’ve just got to keep shooting, it’s just repetition right now,” Abrams said. “I missed some shots that I normally should make. It’s just a matter of keep working and putting in that work.”
2 When the Illini and Buckeyes met on Jan. 23 in Columbus, Illinois’ leading scorer Rayvonte Rice was held scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting for the first time in his collegiate career. In that game he was guarded primarily by Aaron Craft and said afterward the Buckeyes had a great game plan. Illinois coach John Groce expects better of his most talented player the second time around. “I’ll be honest with you, Ray’s got to have a different disposition and I’m confident that he will,” Groce said. “Obviously Craft’s a great defender, we have a lot of respect for their team defense as well as Craft as an individual defender. Ray had some opportunities in Game 1. We need him to be aggressive.”
3 In Wednesday’s loss at Nebraska, Illinois played what Groce termed “good basketball” for the first 30 minutes against the Cornhuskers before fading late. The big culprit for the poor finish, Groce said, was turnovers. Illinois gave it away 14 times leading to 19 points for Nebraska. “In tennis they call it forced and unforced. I thought we had some that were unforced. You can say that’s bad. We don’t want to do that, but it can be good and you can say, ‘We can control these. We’ve got to do better,’“ Groce said. Against the Big Ten’s top defensive team, Illinois will have to shore up its ball handling. “Those guys are real scrappy on defense. They use that as a great tool for their offense,” Abrams said. “We’ve got to understand we’ve got to take care of the ball tomorrow and that’s a big emphasis.”
Prediction: Ohio State 67, Illinois 63
With Illinois having lost nine of 10, Groce has repeatedly been asked if the program is in good shape going forward, despite what this season’s win-loss record is or turns out to be. It hasn’t been pretty and some have grown restless, but the second-year coach is confident he and his staff are taking the necessary steps to build a consistent winner at Illinois. “I know what the vision is for our program, that hasn’t changed. I know what position we’re in now. I know where we were when I took it March 29, 2012. We’re on that same track,” Groce said. “We just need to continue to improve the current guys we’ve got on our team and continue to add talented people and players to our roster. I knew that on March 29, 2012, and I know that on Feb. 14, 2014, that hasn’t changed.” The record might not improve tonight or much more the remainder of this season, but if Groce is to be taken at his word, better days are ahead for the Illinois basketball program. (N-G prediction record: 20-5).