The Buckeyes are in for their first stern test of the conference season. Illinois started the season on a twelve game winning streak and looked to be much improved over last year. Let’s take a closer look.

School: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (rolls off the tongue..)
Location: Urbana and Champaign, IL
Founded: 1867
Student Population: 40,616 total, 31,932 undergrad
School Type: Public
Division: NCAA Division 1
Conference: Big Ten
Stadium: Assembly Hall
Seating: 16,618
Opened: 1963
Head Coach: John Groce
Experience 1st year

Before we get started, I want to mention the strong connection with OSU; with Thad Matta to be precise. Young Mr. Groce first teamed up with Thad in 2000 as an assistant with Butler, then followed Thad to Xavier, continued on with Thad from 2004-2008 as an Assistant Coach at Ohio State, then cut the strings and moved on to Head Coach at Ohio University in Athens, OH. Let’s hope that Thad’s schooling of Groce continues.

Information will be pulled from the excellent site at Statsheet. I‘ll measure of teams capabilities that I will refer to will be the Four Factors; effective FG%, TO%, Off Rebounds Rate and FT Rate, as well as a couple other metrics just to flesh out the teams performances.


Before we get too far along, let’s acknowledge that this team is not really Groce’s team (yet), it is Brandon Paul’s team. Brandon leads the team in minutes played, scoring, rebounding, assists and tied for team lead in blocking shots. And we know that he can score when needed, which occurred almost a year ago. The 11th ranked Fightin’ Brandons (13-2, 0-1) are undefeated (7-0) at home.

Illinois #3 B. Paul 15 32.4 18.467 43.5 72.9 37.9 5.0 3.533 1.333 1.0 1.933
Illinois #1 D. Richardson 15 32.2 10.667 35.0 77.1 31.4 4.733 1.933 1.467 0.133 2.0
Illinois #13 T. Abrams 15 27.933 12.067 43.1 72.3 28.8 3.8 3.333 1.6 0.133 1.867
Illinois #32 N. Egwu 15 24.0 6.0 43.8 64.7 33.3 4.0 0.6 0.733 1.4 3.067
Illinois #42 T. Griffey 15 23.733 9.133 51.0 64.3 45.3 3.267 0.8 0.667 0.867 2.2

Ohio State

The 8th ranked Buckeyes (11-2, 1-0) hit the road against an opponent that is tough to beat (7-0) at home. With only three road games so far, it’s difficult to get a read on this team. They shot decent enough and played decent enough to beat URI and Washington in Tip-Off Classic, then went off the cliff offensively in the loss at Duke. Thad’s boys need an offensive outing closer to URI than Duke to win this game. Key stats for starters:

Ohio-state #1 D. Thomas 13 32.154 19.923 46.7 80.0 40.2 7.0 1.769 0.538 0.308 1.385
Ohio-state #4 A. Craft 13 30.923 8.308 36.5 78.1 33.3 3.538 5.0 1.692 0.077 2.385
Ohio-state #32 L. Smith Jr. 13 26.846 11.615 47.1 58.3 44.6 5.077 1.923 0.615 0.154 1.615
Ohio-state #12 S. Thompson 13 22.615 7.538 46.7 78.6 28.6 4.0 1.154 0.846 0.769 1.692
Ohio-state #23 A. Williams 13 15.846 4.769 69.0 53.7 0.0 4.0 0.154 0.385 1.538 2.385

The below table has the comparative Four Factors as well as possessions per game (PPP), points per possession – offense (PPP-O) and points allowed per possession (PPP-D).

Illinois Ohio State
eFG% 52.4% 52.9%
TO% 17.5% 15.4%
Off Reb 34.1% 36.7%
FT Rate 33.2% 36.6%
PPG 69 67
PPP (O) 1.11 1.16
PPP (D) 0.94 0.84

Pretty close statistically, I believe. Ohio State has some slight edges, but overall these are fairly evenly matched teams.

Illinois will put guards of 6’1”, 6’3” and 6’4” with front line of , 6’9” and 6’11” on the floor. In general, I think OSU can rotate Ravenal/Williams/LQR/McDonald onto the floor to counter the Illinois front line. To get to the nub of what I see as the challenge; how do we neutralize Brandon Paul? Frankly, I don’t care how we do it; man-to-man, match-up zone, or hell, even a box and one. I look for Illini to run some screens/weaves to break Paul open on wings, or run him underneath on low-post screens to pop him open in the corners.

Fortunately, Thad has some options on defense. He could go into ‘ball-denial’ mode and assign some combination of Craft/Scott to cover Paul. If ball is not denied, I think that ‘Zelle will have to take Paul (closer physical match) and Craft/Scott rotate to other guard. Or, Thad could go to ‘blanket’ mode and assign ‘Zelle to Paul, with other guards looking to jump to trap the ball. Paul is also team assist leader, so there’d better be some timely back side rotation.

To be honest, I love Thompson’s athleticism and think he might be the answer. On 2nd thought, Paul is probably too strong for Thompson and could physically overwhelm him. (Thad, you need to give Mick Marotti a call. Really.)

Tip-off is on January 5th at 2:15PM at Assembly Hall. Please join us for Army All-America Game live blog at 12:30, which will smoothly transition into OSU-Ill live blog. The game is televised on BTN.

As long as Gort doesn’t emerge from Assembly Hall, we’ll be OK.