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Ohio State men’s basketball vs. Illinois: Game preview, prediction

The Buckeyes travel to Chicago to face the Illini in the United Center.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 19 Ohio State Buckeyes got a solid start to their conference season after a dominating, 79-59 win over Minnesota Sunday. Now, Chris Holtmann’s team will get a chance to play at the home of the Bull’s in Chicago as they take on Illinois at the United Center at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN. It’ll be the Buckeyes’ first game away from Columbus since Nov. 15, when Ohio State came back for a 69-60 win over Creighton in Omaha. The Buckeyes were 4-1 in their five-game homestand.

Preview

There is a lot that is still unknown about Ohio State basketball at this early stage of the season. One thing we learned Sunday is that the Buckeyes can bounce back from a loss.

After a 72-62 loss to Syracuse in Columbus last week, Holtmann’s team demonstrated that it won’t stay down for long as it put together a 20-point win over the Golden Gophers in its Big Ten opener Sunday night. While Minnesota is not ranked, it is a top-60 team according to kenpom, which means the Gophers were no pushover.

The win was all the more impressive since the Buckeyes’ were without freshman guard Luther Muhammad, who is out indefinitely after suffering a dislocated shoulder against Syracuse. In seven games this season, the first year starter averaged 8.9 points and 2.7 assists per outing.

Against Minnesota, junior forward Andre Wesson led the Buckeyes in scoring with a season-high 16-point effort. Andre’s little brother, Kaleb, added 15 of his own as he continues to lead the team in scoring on the season, contributing an average of 14.5 points per game. Six players scored at least 10 points, including two--Musa Jallow and Duayne Washington, Jr.--coming off the bench.

As a team, the Buckeyes shot greater than 41 percent from range, though just 46.7 percent from the field. They recorded 16 assists on the day to just 11 turnovers, and pulled down 42 rebounds to Minnesota’s 33. Defensively, Ohio State held the Gophers to 0-for-13 from three-point range.

Illinois, meanwhile, is sitting at 2-6, having lost its Big Ten opener against Nebraska 75-60 Sunday. That record does not tell the full story, however. In the Big Ten/ACC Challenge last week, the Illini narrowly fell to Notre Dame 76-74, and fell to top-ranked Gonzaga by only six.

In Illinois’ most recent matchup, the Huskers jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. Freshman forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili led the Illini with 14 points on the day, while junior forward Kipper Nichols added 12 coming off the bench. Coincidentally, the Illini shot 40 percent from the field, but also from range. They were just 8-for-13 from the line, and had only 10 assists to 15 turnovers--surprising for a team which averages 16.5 assists per game.

The Illini are led by sophomore guard Trent Frazier, who averages a team-high 14.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. He’s also recorded a 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio thus far this season. Brad Underwood is in his second season as head coach of the Illini, having amassed a 14-18 overall record last season, including a 4-14 mark in conference play.

Prediction

Vegas line (as of Tuesday night): Ohio State -5.5

ESPN BPI: Ohio State 78.9%

Ohio State is 77-102 all-time against Illinois, but the Buckeyes have dominated the series in more recent years, having won seven of the last eight (sound familiar?). On neutral courts, however, the series is even at one apiece.

The Buckeyes will continue to be without Muhammad, as there is still no timetable for his return. They’ll need to contain the Illini’s shooting from range, and force turnovers from a team which is normally pretty successful at passing. Overall, Ohio State is averaging just over 78 points per game, while the Illini are hitting more than 77. Defensively, however, the Buckeyes give up only 60 to Illinois’ 77.

With so many good teams in the Big Ten this year, Ohio State needs to get wins early and often to remain competitive among the group. While Illinois looks like a pushover on paper, the Illini have proven scrappy against tough opponents--including the current best team in the country. Ohio State jumped out to an early lead in conference play with its win over Minnesota. The two-game Big Ten slate in December should help reduce the fatigue of the 20-game conference schedule. It’ll be a needed break, considering the Big Ten looks to be really good this season, with seven teams ranked in the most recent AP Poll.

LGHL Final Score Prediction: Ohio State 79-65