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Illinois Basketball: 4 Thoughts Before Ohio State

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Jan 19, 2023; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini forward Coleman Hawkins (33) reacts to a call during the first half against the Indiana Hoosiers at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

4 quick thoughts before Illinois Basketball take on Ohio State.

1) Will the Illini be better rested?

After four days off, the Illini return to the floor at State Farm Center in Champaign to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes on Tuesday, January 24th. After looking a step slow against Indiana last week, Brad Underwood made a point about how the team’s schedule has affected them.

“We looked like a team that had been 19 days without a day off,” Underwood said after the loss, “I’m not going to make excuses, they were tougher they were better, they deserve all the credit.”

2. Will Illinois be able to contain the conference’s best freshman?

Headlining the Buckeyes attack is true freshman Brice Sensabaugh. Sensabaugh is averaging 17.0 points per game this season with impressive 49.3/45.8/81.4 shooting splits. These are all with being tasked to create offense as a majority of his looks are created by himself. Sensabaugh looks to replace EJ Liddell as the Buckeye that was a true thorn in the Illini’s side. In recent years, Illinois has had trouble containing bigger guards given their smaller backcourts. This looks to be a continued trend with Jayden Epps and Sencire Harris running the point. Penn State’s Jalen Pickett had an absolute field day against Illinois and I worry about Sensabaugh repeating that.

3. How will Illinois fight off some familiar faces?

The Buckeyes bring back Junior Zed Key and Senior Justice Sueing from last year’s NCAA tournament team. Sueing is their second leading scorer, but was benched in their win against Iowa. Key is the same rugged inside presence, averaging 12.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. After looking average against Kofi Cockburn, Trayce Jackson-Davis absolutely tore into the Illini. Zed Key does not have as diverse a game as Trayce, however I worry about the matchup. Key plays very hard all the time; Dainja and Coleman Hawkins will need to bring it.

4. To Double or not To Double.

Despite their 3-5 conference record, Ohio State is actually 10 spots higher than Illinois in KenPom. Their seventh ranked offense centers around Sensabaugh, but the Illini just came off a loss where Indiana threw it to their star for 40 minutes and were content with guarding him one on one to limit others. Will Underwood throw different looks at Sensabaugh, or will he leave whoever gets the assignment on an island like he did against Trayce Jackson-Davis?

With a win the Illini can get over back on track before they travel to Madison to take on Wisconsin, but they cannot overlook the Buckeyes. Given the recent history of these two teams, Illinois will need their A-game

Brian is a former sports writer for the Daily Illini who has been covering Illinois Basketball for over 5 years. Brian is now the lead basketball reporter for Armchair Illini, the go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He has had work published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, USA Today and more.

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