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No. 17 Ohio St. tries to end 4-game skid Thursday vs. Illinois
By: Robert Livingston - StatFox
Published: 1/23/2014  at  6:05:00 AM
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ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (13-6)

at OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (15-4)

Value City Arena - Columbus, OH
Tip-off: Thursday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: Ohio State -11, Total: 124.5

Amid a four-game losing skid, No. 17 Ohio State will look to turn around its season as it hosts double-digit underdog Illinois on Thursday night.

The Buckeyes began the season winning their first 15 games, but have since struggled mightily in Big Ten play, losing to Michigan State, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. The average margin of defeat in those games has been 7.5 PPG, and they have been getting outrebounded by an average of 4.0 RPG during the losing skid. Of the four defeats, they covered in only the matchup with Michigan State, moving to 9-9 ATS overall (6-6 ATS at home) this season. Ohio State has the favorable trend of home favorites, coming off two or more consecutive upset losses as a road favorite, are 77-36 ATS (68%) since 1997. The Fighting Illini have also lost four in a row, falling to Wisconsin, Northwestern, Purdue and Michigan State. They failed to cover in all four defeats, dropping to 7-10-1 ATS this season, including 1-4 ATS as an underdog. In last season's series, both teams won handily at home (Illinois by 19, OSU by 13), but the Buckeyes have dominated this series recently, going 12-4 SU (10-6 ATS) in the past 16 meetings, and they are 10-2 SU (9-2-1 ATS) when hosting the Illini since 2000. Illinois hasnít covered at Ohio State since 2009, but has a positive betting trend in that double-digit road underdogs after being beaten by the spread by 30+ points total in their previous three games are 116-63 ATS (65%) in January contests since 1997.

Can Ohio State snap its losing skid with a lopsided victory? For the latest college basketball picks, check out The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts selections every week throughout the entire 2013-14 season. The StatFox Experts have been rolling in college basketball Best Bets this season with a 59% ATS (164-113-5) mark, including a stellar 63% ATS (132-79) record since Nov. 23. StatFox Brian is at 62% ATS (34-21-1) in Best Bets for the season and 66% ATS (27-14) since Nov. 26. StatFox Dave is also 61% ATS (32-22-1) for the season and 71% ATS (17-7) since Dec. 18, while StatFox Zach is a strong 58% ATS (32-23-1) on Best Bets this season, including 62% ATS (26-16) since Nov. 22. StatFox Gary is 57% ATS (31-23-2) for the season, and 64% ATS (23-13) since Dec. 3, while StatFox Scott is 58% ATS (33-24) for the season and 61% ATS (23-15) since Dec. 2.

The Fighting Illini are a weak offensive team that plays at a slow pace, scoring only 69.3 PPG (248th in Div. I) on a 41.6% shooting clip (303rd in nation). Their solace is in holding opponents to 63.7 PPG (38th in Div. I) on 41.3% shooting, but those numbers have jumped to 70.5 PPG on 44% FG in conference play where they are 2-4 SU (1-4-1 ATS). Junior SG Rayvonte Rice (17.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG) leads the offense, hitting 1.6 threes per game in his first year with the team since transferring from Drake. He has struggled mightily during the teamís recent slide though, making only 30% FG (5-of-20 threes). Heís joined in the backcourt by 6-foot-2 PG Tracy Abrams (12.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.4 APG), the teamís leading passer. Although he has committed just five turnovers in his past five games combined, he has really struggled with his shot this season, making a career-low 37% FG and a subpar 28% threes. Senior SG Joseph Bertrand (10.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG) rounds out the teamís double-digit scorers, knocking down 52% FG and 44% threes, but he has cooled off in the past three games with 6.3 PPG on 40% FG (0-for-5 threes). But he played well in his one meeting against OSU last season with 12 points (5-of-9 FG), five rebounds and three blocks in 24 minutes. Down low, senior PF Jon Ekey (8.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG) is the teamís top rebounder while C Nnanna Egwu (6.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG) swats an impressive 2.1 blocks per game. When Illinois beat Ohio State at home last season, Egwu had a big game, going 7-for-10 from the field to finish with 16 points and eight boards. Abrams went 5-for-7 from the field in that contest, tallying 13 points, six rebounds and five assists, but he also turned it over six times. But the duo combined for a mere 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting in the 68-55 loss in Columbus.

Ohio State is one of the stingiest defensive teams in the nation, holding opponents to 58.5 PPG (8th in nation) on 39.2% shooting (29th in Div. I), including 26.1% threes, which is the third lowest rate in the nation. This has helped make up for an average offense that scores 73.3 PPG (137th in Div. I) on 45.9% FG and 34.0% threes. PG Aaron Craft (9.2 PPG, 4.9 APG) leads Thad Mattaís defensive efforts, swiping a team-high 2.3 SPG. Craft had 14 points, six assists and three steals in last season's win against the Fighting Illini, swiping four more steals and putting up 11 points in the loss. Shannon Scott (7.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.8 APG, 2.2 SPG) is the Buckeyesí other top defender, but has not played well during the losing skid with only 4.0 PPG on 7-of-22 FG (1-of-9 threes) with the same amount of turnovers as assists (12 each). Offensively, they are led by PF LaQuinton Ross (13.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG), who is making 40% threes this season. Ross has pumped in 18.3 PPG in the past three games, but has not made 50% FG in any of his past eight games. SG Lenzelle Smith Jr. (11.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG) is the teamís second double-digit scorer, though he is averaging just 7.6 PPG on 32% FG (4-of-20 threes) over the teamís past five contests. With 9.0 PPG, 6-foot-11 C Amir Williams isnít a dangerous scorer despite his 63% FG, but he leads the team with 6.4 RPG and 1.8 BPG.

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