Ohio State vs. Illinois NCAA Basketball Preview and Best Bet

E.J. Liddell #32 of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Emilee Chinn/Getty Images/AFP

No. 22 Ohio State hits the bricks and travels to Champaign to do battle with No. 15 Illinois in a very important confrontation for both clubs. Who ends up with the upper hand?

Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin all have four losses and Ohio State is one game behind them with five. Besides these teams trying to win a Big Ten regular-season championship and having the best seed possible for the conference tournament, all of these clubs are fighting to be a Top 4 seed in their bracket, with the idea of making the road less difficult in the NCAA tournament.

Both teams rebounded from a loss they wanted to forget in their prior contest, Ohio State beating Indiana in OT in Columbus (and somehow covering a -7) and Illinois held off Michigan State in East Lansing.

FanDuel and other first-class sportsbooks have Ohio State on the receiving end of six points as a road underdog when looking over the betting odds. Can the Buckeyes beat that number?

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Illinois Fighting Illini

Thursday, February 24, 2022 – 9:00 PM EST at State Farm Center

In Some Ways, These Teams Are Very Similar

In trying to forecast this encounter, one element stands out on the offensive end of the floor. Each has one player they depend on. Ohio State (17-7, 13-11 ATS) has E.J. Liddell, who averages 19.7 points per game, and though he’s not especially tall at 6’7, his 240-pound frame makes him a force. Liddell can overpower a standard forward with his size and powerful upper and lower body and with his strength he can also take the ball inside and score at the rim and draw fouls on taller foes.

Illinois center Kofi Cockburn is a man among boys at 7’0 285-pounds and his size makes him almost impossible to stop around the basket. He’s worked hard in his time under coach Brad Underwood to develop more moves around the bucket and averages 21.7 PPG and like Liddell, is his team’s leading rebounder.

This is the foundation for both clubs.

After the Studs, Each Club Manufactures Points Differently

After Liddell and Cockburn, the Buckeyes and Fighting Illini go their separate ways when it comes to scoring. Chris Holtmann’s Ohio State crew has what appears to be an NBA player in the waiting in 6’5 Malaki Branham, who is a sharp-shooter from deep and is an excellent mid-range shot maker. Being a freshman on a squad with veteran players, he’s chosen to pick his spots, yet, is still the second-leading scorer for the Buckeyes.

The next two point-producers are Zed Key and Kyle Young, who do most of their work in and around the paint, though Young does pop out and make threes. Holtmann’s offense is built on ball movement and they shoot 47.9 percent and 37.9% from deep, which adds up to 74.2 PPG.

Though Illinois will use 6’10 Coleman Hawkins with Cockburn at the same time on the floor, depending on the opponent, Illinois (19-7, 12-14 ATS) runs mostly a 1-4 man to man offense, which is a big man in the post surrounded by four guards.

Three of these backcourt players are double-digit scorers in Alfonso Plummer, Trent Frazier, and Jacob Grandison. Andre Curbelo would probably also tally 10 or more points, but injuries have limited him to just 12 games. Though just 6’1, Curbelo is probably the Illini’s second-best scorer at the rim, having clever ways to get the basket.

When the three’s are dropping for Illinois, their offense is unstoppable, with opposing teams having to help on Cockburn. They average 76 PPG.

What Is the Best Side to Be On?

With Ohio State 7-2 ATS in their last nine games and Illinois 3-7 ATS in their last 10 tries, it would be easy to back the Buckeyes for college basketball picks. And with the visitor 6-2 ATS in recent meetings, it makes even more sense to choose Ohio State with the points.

Normally at this point, we do a hard 180-degree turn and go the other way. Not this time, the Buckeyes cover and Illinois wins the game.

NCAAB Picks: Ohio State +6 (-110) with FanDuel