Ohio State basketball will take on Illinois in what is shaping up to be a truly exciting game in the Big Ten.
This is, for all intents and purposes, Ohio State’s first chance to record a truly defining victory.
Most sell Illinois short, but this Illini team has the talent to compete with the best the Big Ten has to offer. Brandon Paul has led this team to impressive wins over Gonzaga, Butler and USC. Needless to say, Illinois is not a team to be underestimated.
Most importantly, though, two times this season, Ohio State has come up against elite talent and failed.
Here is what the Buckeyes must do to avoid doing so a third time.
If Ohio State can stop Brandon Paul, they will win this basketball game.
There is simply not enough scoring behind the talented senior guard to match the firepower that the Buckeyes boast.
That being said, Brandon Paul is an incredibly tough player to stop once he gets going. He has already turned in impressive performances against quality opponents.
Paul put up 23 points in the loss to Missouri, but his 20 points against Butler and 35 against Gonzaga were instrumental to the Illini being victorious. Ohio State would do well to switch defenders frequently to keep up with Paul because he plays close to 33 minutes a game and is truly the Energizer Bunny on the floor.
The scouting report will certainly tell players to go over the top of screens because if Paul gets an ounce of daylight on a pick-and-pop sequence, he’ll make the Buckeyes pay dearly.
Illinois has taken 358 three-pointers this season, which ranks them second in the nation in attempts.
It is not surprising, then, that the Illini lead the nation in made three-pointers with 132.
Illinois relies on the long ball for 36.7 percent of their offense and is a threat to fire away each and every time it comes down the floor.
The Illini rely on a series of screens at the top of the key and on the baseline to free up shooters in a pick-and-pop scheme as well as through good ball movement. If the Buckeyes can control shooters such as Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey and defend out to the perimeter, they will make Illinois shift their game plan for the first time this season.
Assembly Hall is one of the loudest venues in the country, and for that reason, it will be very hard for Big Ten teams to leave with a victory. The nature of Illinois’ team is that they can score in a hurry, and they often make plays that get fans out of their seats.
By limiting three-point shots and turnovers that can lead to Brandon Paul dunks, OSU can effectively take the crowd out of the game.
That being said, Ohio State must come out swinging early, or the Illinois home crowd is going to make it very difficult for the Buckeyes to come from behind late in the game.
Ohio State has lost their two biggest challenges this season. If they want to avoid losing this, their third chance at a defining win, a third scoring option must emerge.
Deshaun Thomas simply cannot win every game for the Buckeyes.
While Lenzelle Smith Jr. has been scoring better for the Buckeyes recently, OSU must look for another scoring option to be successful.
It seemed logical that Aaron Craft would step into this role as he takes the third most shots behind Thomas and Smith. It would now appear that sophomore LaQuinton Ross is going to be that third scorer.
As he has received more play time, Ross has responded with more scoring. It is now up to him to embrace his new role as a much needed scorer.
If Ross can put up more than 10 points against Illinois, he gives the Buckeyes an excellent chance to win.
Ohio State might not need Aaron Craft to score in bunches, but they do need him to catalyze the offense.
Craft ranks third in the Big Ten in assists per game with 4.8 and is eighth in the conference with a 3-8 ratio of assists to turnovers. The Buckeyes rely on him to provide for others and find shots for himself, but in Ohio State’s two losses, Craft has had just four assists.
Furthermore, in those contests, Ohio State has been out-assisted 22 to 17.
Overall, the Buckeyes rank eighth in the Big Ten in total assists this season, and this has caused some problems within their offense. Too often it seems like OSU relies on Deshaun Thomas to create his own shot.
To win against Illinois, a surprisingly long defense that can hunker down into a tight 2-3 zone, the Buckeyes must do a better job sharing the ball.
This starts with Aaron Craft.