College Basketball Odds, Picks & Predictions for Ohio State vs. Illinois (Thursday, February 24)

College Basketball Odds, Picks & Predictions for Ohio State vs. Illinois (Thursday, February 24) article feature image

Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images. Pictured: Jamari Wheeler (Ohio State)

  • Ohio State and Illinois duel in a top-25 Big Ten battle.
  • The Fighting Illini will be missing two backup bigs, and that could be a major factor against the Buckeyes' frontline.
  • Our analyst breaks down the matchup, plus his prediction and pick, below.

Ohio State vs. Illinois Odds

Thursday, Feb. 24
9 p.m. ET
Ohio State Odds
-110o / -110u
Illinois Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute college basketball odds here.

The Big Ten's unforgiving depth leaves no margin for error. Illinois and Ohio State are far from flawless, but they've maneuvered the treacherous Big Ten maze into enviable positions in the conference title race.

Ohio State currently sits at 10-5 in the league, while Illinois is only a half-game back of Purdue for the top spot.

Though not a traditional Big Ten rivalry, there's certainly no love lost between these two programs. Some Illinois fans still vividly remember E.J. Liddell's "Benedict Arnold" decision to leave his home state and play for THE Ohio State coming out of high school.

Both head coaches will need to dig deep into their bag of schematic tricks to outwit the other. The Buckeyes and Illini did battle not once, not twice, but thrice last season, with Illinois taking the last two matchups, including the rubber match in the Big Ten Tournament.

Ohio State Buckeyes

In a sense, Ohio State's 2022 season trajectory charts a similar course as last year. On paper, this team was built to defend first and score second, so to speak.

However, the data tells a different story. Per KenPom, OSU currently boasts the nation's ninth-most efficient offense in college basketball, compared to the 82nd-ranked defense. This is a mirror image of last year's splits (ninth in adjusted offensive efficiency; 89th in adjusted defensive efficiency).

Led by all-everything Liddell, the Bucks' frontline is loaded with punishers, including Zed Key and Kyle Young, who do their damage in the interior. The skeleton key, however, is rising freshman Malaki Branham on the perimeter.

The lauded freshman prospect from Akron is finally all grown up, as he's restored balance to a frontline-heavy offensive attack. In Branham's last two games, he's racked up 49 points, including a surgical 18-for-26 shooting performance from the floor.

However, he may be hard-pressed to find daylight with Trent Frazier, one of the Big Ten's stickiest on-ball defenders, glued to him like white on rice.

Illinois Fighting Illini

Despite battling a myriad of injuries all year, Brad Underwood & Co. have weathered the storm.

Frazier's renaissance is one of the best stories in college basketball, while backcourt mate Alonso Plummer continues to torch the nets from distance. And yeah, Kofi Cockburn has been a bonafide beast night in and night out.

The key will be corralling Liddell and the Bucks' interior muscle. In that light, Underwood would prefer to have backups RJ Melendez and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk in the mix to bang bodies in the middle, but both are reportedly unavailable.

This puts a serious spotlight on Cockburn's foul situation — though, the big man is rarely ever in foul trouble.

The X-factor, as always, is Andre Curbelo. The enigmatic maestro is still working his way back into game shape, but seems to explode when the world has forgotten about him.

On the heels of a few quiet outings, is this a vintage "Curby" breakout game?

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Ohio State vs. Illinois Betting Pick

From a spot perspective, the Buckeyes may face an uphill climb after emptying the tank in Monday's overtime win over Indiana.

On the other side, Illinois has been off all week to dissect the film and scheme against Liddell and Ohio State's battalion of bruising forwards.

However, the angle here is the under, rooted in Ohio State's increasingly methodical pace the last few weeks and its ability to dictate the tempo in close games.

The second and third games in last year's meetings played slow, and a barnburner in Columbus sets up to be another deliberate affair.

Barring a lights out shooting display from either side, this game should settle into the mid 130s.

Pick: Under 140

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