Illinois Fighting Illini at Ohio State Buckeye Betting Preview

The college basketball regular season’s final weekend features a top-10 showdown on Saturday afternoon at 4 pm EST between the no. 4 Illinois Fighting Illini and the no. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes are a slight 2-point favorite at home, with the over/under set at 152 points.

Illinois heads to Columbus fresh off a 23-point blowout win of no. 2 Michigan earlier this week. That win has the Fighting Illini in contention for the Big Ten regular-season title and a no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The win was even more impressive considering that Illinois won without top scorer Ayo Dosunmu, who remains sidelined with a facial injury.

As for the Buckeyes, they’ve fallen on hard times late in the regular season, losing three in a row. In fairness, two of those three losses came against Michigan and Iowa, a pair of top-10 teams. But a road loss to Michigan State sandwiched in between is a little puzzling. The Buckeyes now risk their seed in the NCAA Tournament dropping a line or two if they don’t get back on track quickly.

Where’s Duane?

Despite scoring 30 points in the recent loss to Michigan, Duane Washington Jr. could be considered a scapegoat for Ohio State’s losses to Michigan State and Iowa. Despite 17 points against Michigan State, he made just one of his seven three-point attempts. As the team’s best outside shooter, those types of struggles are difficult for the Buckeyes to overcome. Washington followed up that game by managing just seven points against Iowa, not even scoring half as much of his season average of 15.3 points per game.

Likewise, forward Justice Sueing, the team’s third-leading scorer, has been prone to inconsistency in recent games, contributing just one rebound against Iowa. The Buckeyes have received only three total points over their last three games from Justin Ahrens, who is their biggest perimeter threat outside of Washington. He’s a huge X-factor for Ohio State and needs to produce more to help take some pressure off E.J. Liddell, who continues to be the team’s most consistent player.

Next Man Up

Without Dosunmu, Illinois has been the embodiment of the next-man-up philosophy. Freshman Andre Curbelo has come into his own, scoring 17 points in back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Michigan despite averaging just 8.4 points per game on the season. Meanwhile, Trent Frazier played the role of hero against Michigan, scoring 22 points despite going cold late in February.

Of course, the Illini can also lean on seven-foot center Kofi Cockburn, who continues to create trouble for Big Ten teams in the paint. Cockburn is just shy of averaging a double-double with 17.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. He’s also been remarkably consistent everywhere but the free-throw line, although at times, he’s been forced off the court due to foul trouble.

Role Reversal

The first time these teams met this season, the Buckeyes won 87-81 on the road. However, Ohio State needed to shoot 52.4% from three-point range to make that happen. That’s unlikely to repeat itself this time around. Plus, Illinois still has an edge in the paint with Cockburn, who had a double-double in that game. With the younger Illini guards stepping up in Dosunmu’s absence, bet on Illinois as road underdogs.

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