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Illinois Basketball Searching For Consistency at Ohio State



Illinois Basketball to Host Five-Star 2025 Wing
Jan 27, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood reacts before a game with the Indiana Hoosiers at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Since Terrence Shannon Jr.’s return against Rutgers, the Illinois Basketball team has struggled to find the form they had when he left the squad. They struggled for 30 minutes with Rutgers before blowing them away. Then Northwestern took them down in Evanston in a shootout. Finally, they grinded out a slugfest at home against Indiana. Three games, three different Illini teams. It was always going to be a process to reintegrate a player like Shannon Jr., whose talent demands a high involvement. Now Illinois goes to Ohio State, who much like last year find themselves in a New Year’s slump.

1. Tough but Fair

Against Northwestern Illinois basketball allowed Boo Buie to dictate the Wildcats offense. Buie is a talented guard in traffic and off ball screens, and Ohio State has a similar threat in Bruce Thornton. In Columbus last year as a freshman Thornton had 20 in an ugly loss for the Illini. Ohio State, like every Big Ten team will know that the Illini are looking to force tough twos and keep players in front. Thornton, and his backcourt mate Roddy Gayle, will both be willing to take and make those shots. The Illini will do well to find the balance between making those shots as tough as possible without overreacting to the Buckeyes talented guards. If the Illini can link stops together, they can make their lives easier offensively.

2. Let it Fly

Against Northwestern the Illini were smoldering from deep, making 11 of their 24 threes. The next game they made just seven of 23. While jump shot variance will happen, especially for a high-volume team like Illinois, some of their best offense this year has been getting offensive rebounds. Against Indiana they turned down open looks trying to create the perfect shot. In general I don’t mind this. It creates ball movement, and the selfless attitude leads to good offense. However, on days where scoring comes difficult every open shot is a good one. Ohio State is a mediocre rebounding team that only plays one high level rebounder at a time. Illinois basketball went +19 on the glass against Northwestern, and then the Cats turned around and went +5 on the glass against Ohio State the next game. Of course, when they get the offensive rebounds, they need to finish around the basket, another problem the last few games.

3. Floor Balance

The Buckeyes early season success came from hot three-point shooting. The Buckeyes much like the Illini eschew traditional size for skill on the perimeter. However, the Illini are one of the best three-point defenses in the country by volume allowed. As long as they stick to their scheme on that end, they can keep the Buckeyes from damaging them from outside. Where Ohio State might find joy from deep will be in transition. They are one of the worst teams in the country at forcing turnovers as are the Illini. As such, Illinois needs to be smart with their attack to not allow easy looks for the Ohio State shooters. The Buckeyes might be able to get looks from deep off Illinois sending bodies to the offensive glass. Making sure they stay in good positions and don’t hurt themselves will go a long way. If Illinois wants to compete for the Big Ten title and a top 3 seed in March, these are the games they can’t slip up in.

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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.