OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (11-2)
at ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (13-2)
Assembly Hall Ė Champaign, IL
Tip-off: Saturday, 2:15 p.m. ET
Line: Ohio State -4, Total: 142
Two of the top Big Ten teams will look to avoid a third loss as No. 8 Ohio State heads to No. 11 Illinois as a road favorite.
The Buckeyes have had one of the nationís best defenses this season, limiting opponents to just 56.5 PPG on 36.8% shooting from the field. The Fighting Illiniís stats donít jump off the page in the same way at either end, but theyíll come out for this one hungry, in need of avenging an SU loss to an unimpressive Purdue team earlier in the week. And with a win against Gonzaga already to Illinoisí credit, they canít be overlooked for an upset.
Who will prevail in this Big Ten showdown? For the answer, connect to College Basketball Best Bets for all the Expert picks throughout the entire 2012-13 season. The StatFox experts have started off 2013 with a bang, going 18-12 ATS (60%) in the first four days of the new year. StatFox Brian is 3-1 ATS in this span, while StatFox Scott is 5-2 ATS. The experts now have a collective 54% ATS mark (188-160-7) in college basketball Best Bets for the season, led by StatFox Gary, who sits at 60.3% ATS (44-29) for the season, while Dave is at 55% ATS (68-56-2) on the year with Scott at 51% ATS and StatFox Brian at 50% ATS.
Both of these teams center around one key scorer and that man for Ohio State is Deshaun Thomas (19.9 PPG, 7.0 RPG). The 6-foot-7 junior is making 2.5 three-pointers per game, making him difficult to guard with his size. Lenzelle Smith Jr. (11.6 PPG) is the teamís only other double-digit scorer, and heís also been lights out from deep this year, making 44.6% of his treys. The one aspect of the offense that needs to improve is point guard play. Aaron Craft (8.3 PPG, 5.0 APG) is down in scoring from a year ago when he was supposed to take a big step forward, and is making just 36.5% of his field goals, a huge drop from his 50% clip last season. His 1.7 SPG is also down consierably from 2.5 SPG in 2011-12, and heíll have to correct this in Big Ten play.
That big scoring threat for Illinois is 6-foot-4 guard Brandon Paul (18.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.5 APG), who has had his best games this year against his toughest opponents. He scored 23 points in the Illini's loss to Missouri and dropped 35 in their 11-point win against Gonzaga. Fellow guard Tracy Abrams (12.1 PPG, 3.3 APG) has also been an effective scorer despite poor 3-point shooting this year (28.8% 3-pt FG). The same goes for D.J. Richardson (10.7 PPG), who is making just 35.0% FG and 31.4% threes, hoisting up 7.0 attempts from long range per game. Keying the Illinois frontcourt, at least defensively, is 6-foot-11 center Nnanna Egwu (6.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG), who leads the team with 1.4 BPG.