Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini at #14 Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State seeks revenge against D.J. Richardson and Illinois. - David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Did you remember to turn your clock forward an hour at 2 a.m. last night? Let's hope the Buckeyes did. They play host to Illinois on Evan Ravenel's senior day at 12:30 p.m. EST on ESPN (Channel 1301 in Columbus).

The math is easy enough. Ohio State beats Illinois? They're the two seed in the 2013 Big Ten men's basketball tournament. If much hated arch rival Michigan defeats B1G #1 Indiana, the Buckeyes share a piece of the 2012-2013 regular season basketball championship. If Illinois wins, well, in the words of the warrior poet Samuel L. Jackson, hold on to your butts.

Ohio State's positioned well enough with a win, but with a loss? There remains one scenario where by which they lose and still wind up the #2 seed. Ready for it? Penn State beats Wisconsin – wait, wait, stop your laughing. Indiana beats Michigan, and Norhwestern beats Michigan State. Pretty plausible, no? The odds aren't even actually favorable with a home loss on Evan Ravenel's senior day that the Buckeyes wind up the number three seed in later this week's B1G tourney. The most likely scenario that makes that a reality necessitates Wisconsin winning, Indiana winning, and Northwestern beating Sparty. Just think about that for a second.

The two others both hinge on Penn State beating Wisconsin, which hey, anything's possible, especially in the bat country world of college baskeball in 2012-2013. But humor us for a second. Let's say the Bucks lose and Wisconsin falls. Your rooting interests become Indiana AND Michigan State *or* Michigan AND Northwestern, if you want the bucks to land the #3 spot in the Big Ten tourney. Do you really want to look at yourself in the mirror all week after an Ohio State loss AND a Michigan win that you cheered for? That's what we thought.

More probably however, in the event of a Buckeyes loss, we're looking at Ohio State as the 4 seed heading to Chicago. There remains but one outlier in which Ohio State falls and then winds up the fifth seed having to play an opening round game against Penn State on Thursday. For that to happen, Ohio State would have to lose, Michigan would have to upset Indiana, and then the two other favorites, Michigan State and Wisconsin, would have to win as expected. Let's not let that happen, universe. Okay? Okay.

Now before we get to this whole basketball game at hand, let's first start by recognizing graduating senior, Evan Ravenel. Ravenel marks the seemingly rare college basketball senior who's exhausted all four years of his eligibility. He'll play his final game as a Buckeye at Value City Arena Sunday afternoon at 12:30. Ravenel's already received his degree in consumer and family financial services this past December, and though the road's been bumpy from Boston College transfer to part time player as a senior, Ravenel's been a difference maker in two of the Buckeyes' previous three games (and in upset wins over then #4 Michigan State and then #2 Indiana no less).

When asked about Ohio State's various post-season tournament seeding possibilities this past week, speaking like the senior leader that he is, Ravenel told reporters "I'm not really focused on what everybody else does,". The Buckeyes will have to be equally focused on the task at hand if they want to live up to the expectations that they close this year as effectively as they have by and large in their last four games (most of the Northwestern game aside). The last time Ohio State and Illinois met, the Buckeyes found themselves on the receiving end of a loss so bad that multiple paid professional followers and analysts of the team opined that they might not even make the NCAA tournament. While that scenario felt absurd then (and seems even more so now), the Illini also didn't mop the floor with the Buckeyes in Champaign by accident.

6-11 sophomore center Nnanna Egwu scored a career high 16 points – insultingly enough, many of them from mid-range – and Illini start Brandon Paul added in a seemingly effortless 19 points and 7 boards en route to the 74-55 blowout. While defensively it's improbable the Buckeyes will have a sheer size answer to Egwu, It's probable they won't need one. He's only averaged 6.6 points per game on the year and managed just 10 and 6 in their last two contests against Nebraska and Iowa respectively.

Paul is a whole other story. While he didn't exactly go off the last go around, Ohio State's Lenzelle Smith will have to be at his finest defensively if they want to limit the most dangerous of the Illini's core from reaching the ceiling of his potential. Guard Tracy Abrams was also effective against the Buckeyes in the last contest, shooting 5-for-7 from the field en route to 13 points while also pulling down 6 boards and dishing out 5 assists. D.J. Richardson was streaky in the wrong way overall against the Bucks, but did hit three trey's in the win. The Buckeyes won't be able to overlook any of Illinois' starting guards.

Senior forward Tyler Griffey is by no means a scoring machine for the Illini and former Ohio State assistant John Groce, but he can be effective in the interrior. Deshaun Thomas will have to work with what he's given, especially given his slight lull here at the end of the regular season. Thomas was responsible for 24 in the teams' last matchup, so it's not out of the question a return to 20+ points scoring is in order for the best conference in America's leading scorer.

Junior guard Joseph Bertrand bested his season average by five scoring 12 points off the pine in January's game between the two teams. Ohio State will have to limit his scoring prowess, while also working in the likes of LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott, and Evan Ravenel better into the game plan. The three subs combined to shoot 2-for-9 for just 7 points in the deflating loss. Even if just Scott and Ravenel channel themselves from the last couple of several contests, Ohio State should be more than fine in terms of bench representation.

Final Thoughts

Ohio State finds themselves peaking at just the right time, while Illinois took a five game winning streak that included the likes of Indiana and Minnesota and followed it up with a lackluster showing against Michigan, a so-so home win over Nebraska, and then an impermissible late season road loss at Iowa. Though Illinois isn't beyond beating a team of the Buckeyes' stature twice in a season, there's a reason the Illini enter as almost double digit underdogs in this one. Illinois may make some noise yet in the Big Ten Tournament and should be a tough out in an 8/9 matchup in two weeks, but Ohio State isn't likely to overlook the obstacle immediately in front of them.

Prediction

Holy War. Though Ohio State stands poised to win going away, they're in for a surprising (in context of the 9.5 point spread) bit of a fight. Illinois will be every bit as plucky as John Groce can have them against his former mentor Thad Matta, but Ohio State will be just too much. 61-56, Buckeyes.

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