The last time Ohio State saw Illinois, the Buckeyes maintained their perfect record thanks to a few late breaks in a 73-68 win. That was a month ago.
Since then, the Illini have been as inconsistent as it gets. At 17-10 overall and 7-7 in Big Ten play, a win tonight in Columbus would go a long way to righting Illinois’ recent issues.
That begs the question: Can the Illini pull off the upset?
A couple of things may be playing in their favor. The Buckeyes (25-2, 12-2) are coming off their second loss in three games, and could still be a little gassed from playing just two days ago. Ohio State doesn’t use a deep bench, which means every key player has been on the floor more than they were during non-conference play.
So there’s a chink in the armor, right? They’re worn down?
“I don’t think so,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber told the St. Louis Dispatch. “They went to Wisconsin and played 30 minutes as well as you could. I think maybe the pressure got to them a little. (Sunday) it was the turnovers. They weren’t as poised. But I don’t think they’ve slipped at all. They’ve just lost to two tough teams.”
True enough. Purdue and Wisconsin are top 15 teams, and both got the Buckeyes at home, where they’re a combined 29-0. Plus, relying on one’s best players isn’t unusual right now.
Weber and Matta both favor the strategy of shortening a team’s bench as March approaches. Makes sense, too. If you’ve got great players who can handle playing long stretches, you do it.
“Go back to our Final Four team, we played basically seven and a half guys,” Weber told the paper. The good players don’t want to come out. If I took Deron (Williams) out, he’d ask why? You hope they’re in game shape and that you stay away from injuries to do that.”
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