Tonight, there is an AP Top 25 showdown between Big Ten rivals Ohio State (22) and Illinois (15).
There is currently projected to be a three-way tie for first place in the regular-season standings between Purdue, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Outside of the top of the conference standings, Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan State will also be threats in the conference tournament and in the NCAA tournament.
Outside of the Big 12 and the SEC, the Big Ten has been the toughest conference this season. Both Illinois and Ohio State have had strong seasons. The Fighting Illini have a 19-7 record, while the Buckeyes come in at 17-7.
With a key showdown at home, the question is if Illinois can hold off a hot Ohio State team.
Please note that all college basketball odds and lines current as of 11 a.m. ET on Thursday, February 24.
Ohio State vs Illinois Predictions
Illinois has played the 14th-toughest schedule in the country this year, while Ohio State has played the 19th-toughest slate. Not only have both teams been tested, but both teams play a slow tempo of offense.
The Buckeyes have an adjusted tempo of 65.4 possessions per game, while the Illini average only 67.3 possessions per game. The Division I average is 67.5 possessions per game. With Illinois as a six-point favorite, they have a limited window of opportunity to cover the spread due to the low number of possessions.
Most importantly, both teams rank in the bottom-fifth in the country in average offensive possession length. Even though Illinois has close to an average tempo, if they had their way, they would be able to slow down the game even more with more like-minded opponents such as Ohio State.
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What helps Illinois is that they rank in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. What doesn’t help their ability to cover the spread, though, is that they rely more on three-pointers than most teams.
The Illini score 36.3% of their points from three, which is high compared to the 31.5% NCAA average. For three-pointer heavy teams, the spread can be a dangerous bet. Teams will either easily cover the spread or miss it by a significant amount due to their inconsistent scoring.
One reason why Ohio State is an underdog tonight is because their defensive efficiency ranks 91st out of 358 teams in the country.
Even though their defense will have trouble against Illinois, I believe that Ohio State can hang with them. Against Purdue — the best team in the Big Ten — Ohio State lost by only three points on the road. Additionally, the Buckeyes have beaten Duke, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan this season.
I am not sure if Ohio State can pull off the upset, but I have a hard time seeing how the Illini win tonight’s game by seven or more points.
Ohio State vs Illinois Prediction: Illinois 70, Ohio State 69
Ohio State vs Illinois Best Bets
Best Bet: Ohio State +6.5 (-110) at BetMGM (would bet up to +5.5)
Wager: 1 Unit
Illinois is clearly a better team than Ohio State, but the gap between both teams is not as big as it appears.
Ohio State, despite having seven losses, has lost only two games this season by seven points or more. Illinois, despite putting together a strong season, has been involved in several one-possession games this season.
I believe tonight’s game will fit that category.
When you have two opponents who prefer to take their time on offense, we should see a low-scoring game (even though the point total for the game is at 141.5 points). I am not crazy about Ohio State in general, but I believe they will either win the game or keep it close.