Illinois Fighting Illini Look For Big Win In Big Ten Home Opener

By michaelcronin
Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never easy to win on the road in college basketball, especially in the Big Ten.

The Illinois Fighting Illini learned that the hard way as they fell to the Purdue Boilermakers in their conference opener.

It didn’t matter that Purdue struggled in non-conference play and is expected to be near the bottom of the conference standings, January basketball just means something more.

Now it’s time for the Illini to defend their home floor in a big test against the highly ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. The Bucks took care of business against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in their Big Ten opener on Wednesday.

This Ohio State team however is not like years past. They don’t have that traditional low post threat in the mold of Greg Oden or Jared Sullinger.

Their go-to-guy is Deshaun Thomas. He’s a smooth wing that loves to shoot the midrange jumper. I personally don’t think he drives enough to the rim and defensively he is a disaster.

Guard Aaron Craft is always pesky but he really hasn’t added what the Buckeyes need offensively. He still can’t knock down the perimeter jumper with a lot of success. However, he will probably be assigned to Brandon Paul from the start and that will certainly be his biggest responsibly. We saw what Terone Johnson did to Paul and “BP3” just can’t be shutdown for a second straight game.

Part of the issue with Paul is his unwillingness to continuously attack the rim. I don’t know if he’s trying to prove a point to NBA scouts, or something else, but he still isn’t a good enough shooter to spend a lot of time behind the three point line. Use your slashing ability. That will be your number one option at the next level anyways.

As for the Illini defensively, I’d play primarily zone from the get go. The Buckeyes can only really score in transition and they have yet to prove the ability to hit open jumpers on the perimeter like they did in the past with Jon Diebler and William Buford.

While Lenzelle Smith Jr. is slowly starting to come into his own, I’d watch out for big man Amir Williams. The sophomore is still relatively raw but his potential is shining, albeit in limited minutes. Without a stout interior presence for the Illini, and the probability of playing a lot of zone, he could rack up a ton of “garbage” buckets on put backs  Those are many times the difference between a win and a loss.

I started out saying it’s tough to win on the road in the Big Ten so I can’t be a hypocrite. I like the Illini in this one as they are at home, Ohio State is a bit overrated defensively since they rely a lot on steals and they still can’t make a consistent perimeter shot. Overall, though, I’m not impressed with either team at this early stage of conference play although a lot of basketball is still to be played. I can’t wait to watch it!

Like my article? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter (@tmichaelcronin). I look forward to your thoughts.

You May Also Like