Best upcoming college hoops games
by Scott M Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
A New Year’s resolution idea: watch more college basketball. With conference seasons in full swing, there’s a bevy of matchups to start your new year off with a bang.
Here’s the best on deck:
*All times Eastern
No. 8 Ohio State at No. 14 Illinois | Saturday, 2:15 p.m., Big Ten Network
About the Buckeyes (11-2): Ohio State’s two losses have come against ranked opponents, Duke and Kansas. In those games, the Buckeyes shot miserably from beyond the arc (26% vs. Duke, 29% vs. Kansas). They’ll need to shoot well to keep pace on the road against the run-and-gun Illini. Deshaun Thomas (19.9 points, 7 rebounds a game) has been the difference-maker all season, and OSU will need him to take advantage of weaker front lines.
About the Illini (13-2): After Illinois fell to rival Missouri on Dec. 22, it blew a double-digit lead before escaping 81-79 against Auburn. To come out of a loaded Big Ten above .500, first-year coach John Groce’s Illini must continue to play fast and shoot well. That didn’t happen in the opener, a 68-61 loss at Purdue. We could see a downturn reminiscent of last season’s collapse. That means D.J. Richardson, Tracy Abrams and the rest of Illinois’ guards will have to step up to the level of star Brandon Paul.
The matchup: The rest of the nation might need a reminder who All-America candidate Paul is, but Ohio State knows firsthand of the Illinois guard’s ability after he scored 43 points in the Illini’s win last season against the Buckeyes. If Paul and his teammates are making their three-pointers, Ohio State could lose this one. Stopping OSU’s Thomas will be a difficult task for the inferior Illini big men.
Our pick: Illinois
Bucknell at No. 12 Missouri | Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN3
About the Bison (13-2): Bucknell has played a handful of strong teams, but Missouri will easily be its toughest test, with the Bison’s most notable win coming against Purdue. This is the last non-conference game leading into Patriot League action and fighting Lehigh for an NCAA tournament bid. Mike Muscala is a superstar big man, averaging 18.9 points … [For more on Top 5: The best upcoming college hoops games, click here.]